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Minnesota nurses strike hits one week with no end in sight

Talks between the two sides broke down on September 3rd, with no negotiations scheduled.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Photo by <a href="http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/press/entry/statement-by-nnu-on-the-minnesota-nurses-strike/"> National Nurses United </a>Photo by National Nurses United

Roughly 5,000 Minnesota nurses who walked off the job a week ago are still on the picket lines, with no end in sight.

The nurses staff five different Allina Health hospitals in the Twin Cities, including Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Mercy Hospital, United Hospital, Unity Hospital and the Phillips Eye Institute.

Talks between Allina Health negotiators and and the Minnesota Nurses Association team broke off on September 3rd when the hospital team left the table, according to a statement by the nurses union.

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"MNA issued a request to Allina¹s negotiations team to return to the table on Saturday, September 3 through the mediators.  We asked to return to negotiations to avert the strike before it began.  We have not received any response. The nurses made the last proposal at 5:15 a.m. On September 3.  We have not received a response to this proposal.  Instead, the mediators told the nurses negotiating team that Allina's negotiators were leaving," MNA spokesperson Rick Fuentes said.

"It became clear after 22 hours of negotiation that there would be no more productive engagement from the mna and the talks ended," Allina Health spokesperson David Kanihan said.

[Also: Minnesota Nurses Association members file 10-day notice of strike against Allina Health]

He confirmed there has been no progress for seven days and also that since the strike began, 440 permanent nurses have crossed the picket line and returned to work, joining 1500 temporary nurses that were hired to help provide care.

Both parties continue to assert their positions through public channels.

"The first days of any strike inevitably involve a great deal of rhetoric, and unfortunately no progress has been made in the last seven days. We hope we have reached the point when the union can put away their public relations playbook and return to the bargaining table so we can finish our job," said Allina Health.

A previous weeklong strike by the MNA in June cost the nonprofit system $20 million, Kanihan said, though the system said they believe the two parties are "very close" to reaching an agreement.

Fuentes said major sticking points remain to be settled.

[Also: 5,000 Allina Health nurses to strike in Minnesota over health plan changes]

"We were $2.4 million apart on an agreement on September 3.  We also were looking for a guarantee that we could verify that nurses' benefit plans would not be diminished...The nurses remain eager to return to the table and go back to work to take care of their patients."

The strike became reality following Allina's proposal to transition nurses to the same health insurance plans that cover other Allina Health employees in their group. However, MNA nurses pushed back against the idea, only agreeing to give up two of their plan options.

Nurses have since agreed to gradually transition to the Allina Core plans as part of a package deal that included some staffing improvements and additional improvements in workplace safety, including 24 hour security in the ER and additional safety training.

They continue to clash over two points: setting an amount for monetary compensation to be paid as a safety net for the health plan transition to the nurses for sunsetting their plans, which would help cover out-of-pocket costs for unexpected serious healthcare episodes and no a diminishment clause that means their plans would not decrease in actuarial value. Allina proposed that confirmation be made by an actuary of their choosing, but MNA is requesting additional independent corroboration from their own actuary.

Both sides confirmed there are no talks or meetings scheduled at this time.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn