A closer look inside the stalled negotiations between nurses union, local hospitals

MNA Nurses Picketing in Duluth
MNA Nurses Picketing in Duluth(KBJR/CBS3 Duluth)
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 9:35 AM CDT
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DULUTH, MN -- Five days before a planned three-day strike, we’re taking a closer look at what local nurses and hospitals are proposing on both ends of the negotiating table.

The Minnesota Nurses Association publicly announced its intent to strike on Thursday, Sept. 1. giving hospitals the required 10-day notice before their nurses walk off the job.

The strike is set to start at 7 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 12 and end at 6:59 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15.

It impacts hospitals in Duluth, Superior, and Moose Lake, where 2,000 nurses are expected to walk off the job. Statewide, 15,000 nurses are expected to take part in the strike.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said St. Luke’s Two Harbors facility is impacted by this strike. Hospital officials say Two Harbors will not be impacted.

CLAIMS OF ‘ILLEGAL’ STRIKE

Wednesday, Essentia Health filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the MNA didn’t properly notify the hospital of their intent to strike.

Essentia claims the MNA did not include Essentia Health-Duluth among the list of facilities in its 10-day strike notice.

“This is another oversight from the MNA in its rush to a work stoppage,” Essentia wrote.

St. Luke’s Hospital also filed an unfair labor practice charge with similar concerns.

The MNA defended themselves in a response Wednesday, calling the charges a desperate move by hospitals unprepared to deal with 15,000 nurses statewide going on strike.

“It is unfortunate that Essentia executives are spending more time and money on lawyers than negotiating with nurses to avoid a strike on September 12,” Chris Rubesch, MNA First Vice President and RN at Essentia Health in Duluth, wrote in a statement.

According to Rubesch, the National Labor Relations Board only requires notification of the date and time that picketing will commence, which they claim the Minnesota Nurses Association provided to Essentia Health.

KBJR 6/CBS 3 reached out to the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday, hoping to learn more about what comes next. We did not hear back.

AT THE NEGOTIATING TABLE

Meanwhile, we also heard from both sides about what sticking points remain in their contract negotiations.

In an email Wednesday, MNA leaders say St. Luke’s nurses’ most recent request is for 13.5% in the first year of the contract, 9% in year two, and 8% in year three. That adds up to a 30.5% wage increase over three years.

St. Luke’s leaders did not break down their yearly wage increase, but said they are currently offering 10.25% over three years, which “far exceeds recently reported settlements in the Duluth area.”

MNA nurses countered that saying that when you account for rising inflation, the hospital’s offer doesn’t meet their needs.

In an online document, St. Luke’s hospital leaders claim if they were to agree to the MNA’s requests as they stand, it would cost the hospital $20 million each year, something they say is not sustainable.

But MNA nurses say their requests are not all about wages.

“As nurses have noted repeatedly, hospital executives are focused on wages only, while nurses are asking for changes to address the problems of short staffing and retention in our hospitals. While fair compensation is part of retaining nurses, hospital executives continue to show no interest in negotiating on the larger issues of patient care and working conditions which MNA nurses want to solve to keep nurses at the bedside.”

St. Luke’s however says they have done significant outreach to hire nurses, including offering a $6,000 retention bonus to nurses for a two-year commitment and “typically” an extra $25 an hour for nurses who work extra shifts.

St. Luke’s leaders also says they are currently not making a profit, and have lost more than $5.3 million through June 2022. Although the exact time period for when they are reporting that loss was not immediately clear.

CURRENT PAY AND BENEFITS

As of July 2021, St. Luke’s Hospital reports their starting wage for a full-time nurse who has “little to no” experience is $35.63, or $74,110 annually.

A full-time St. Luke’s nurse who is at their midpoint, experience wise, earns $45.45, or $94,536 annually, according to the hospital.

“Full time benefits at .6, which includes health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, pension contribution, 401(k) match, vacation time, personal days, sick leave, tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment, educational development funds, funeral leave, jury duty pay, shift differential, weekend differential, weekend bonus, and extra shift bonus of $25 per hour for every extra shift picked up,” according to St. Luke’s hospital leaders.

We also asked Essentia for their pay and benefit information.

According to Essentia spokespeople, brand new nurses with an associate’s degree who work full-time in the Twin Ports earn a base pay of $74,000 annually.

“Additionally, they are eligible to enroll in health insurance plans, 401k options, paid time off and sick leave, student-loan forgiveness and other benefits,” according to Essentia spokespeople.

HOSPITALS’ CONTINENCY PLANS

Both Essentia and St. Luke’s have reported ‘extensive’ staffing plans in plan to account for the planned strike.

Essentia leaders say they will continue to offer “quality care for our patients, including uninterrupted urgent and emergency care. This includes temporarily bringing in nurses who are licensed to practice in the affected locations and redirecting qualified staff from other Essentia Health facilities to fill any needs that might arise. Our plans will allow us to continue to serve our communities with the high standards of care our patients expect from us.”

They did not directly respond to our question, asking if any procedures or appointments have been cancelled during the planned strike.

As for St. Luke’s, they say they are “fully prepared.”

“We are bringing in replacement nurses, who will join many of our expert inpatient team members, to care for our patients. We will be fully open for all inpatient, emergency and clinic-based care, although we may reschedule some non-urgent surgeries and procedures. Patients should arrive as scheduled unless they hear differently from their provider,” St. Luke’s Hospital leaders wrote.

DULUTH, MN -- Essentia Health has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Minnesota Nurses Association, alleging the union didn’t properly notify the hospital of their intent to strike.

According to an announcement from Essentia Health Wednesday morning, they filed the charge with the National Labor Relations Board overnight.

Essentia claims the MNA did not include Essentia Health-Duluth among the list of facilities in its 10-day strike notice on Thursday, Sept. 1. while announcing a strike there starting Monday, Sept. 12.

“This is another oversight from the MNA in its rush to a work stoppage,” Essentia wrote.

“While we respect the MNA’s right to call a legal strike, they have not followed the regulatory process in this case. These laws are in place to hold both sides accountable. Essentia will continue to follow the process as defined in statute, and we expect the MNA to do the same,” Essentia continued.

About 2,000 MNA nurses in the Twin Ports plan to strike for three days starting Monday, Sept. 12.

That will affect Essentia, St. Luke’s, and Moose Lake facilities.

Nurses are asking for better pay and ways to retain and recruit staff.

They have now been working without a contract since the beginning of July.

In a statement, Essentia leaders said they have “negotiated in good faith toward a fair agreement. We believe it’s imperative for us to exhaust all of our options in pursuit of this objective as we seek to preserve our ability to provide patient care. This includes continuing to negotiate at the table, which is where solutions are found. We again encourage the MNA to consider mediation.”

We reached out to MNA leaders for reaction to Wednesday’s announcement.

We did not immediately hear back.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.