MINNEAPOLIS -- Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association on Thursday approved the union’s latest proposed contract with Allina Health.
The contract - unanimously supported by union leaders - put an end to an open-ended strike that began on Labor Day.
About 4,000 nurses have been on strike at United Hospital in St. Paul, Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, Unity Hospital in Fridley and Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. Approximately 1,500 replacement nurses have provided patient care during the strike.
Voting on the most recent proposal, reached after a 17-hour negotiating session at the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul, took place at four locations near the striking hospitals.
Nurse Katie Enright, who has spent her entire 10-year career with Allina, said she reluctantly voted to approve the proposal.
“I’m definitely not happy with how it all panned out,” she said Thursday. “I don’t know that we really got a fair contract. I voted yes because I want to get back to work.”
Negotiations for a new three-year contract began between the union and Minneapolis-based Allina in February, with the nurses’ current contract expiring in May.
The nurses went on a weeklong strike in June, resulting in a cost of $20 million for Allina. The open-ended strike began in September with talks resuming late in the month.
Since negotiations began, health insurance coverage has been a major sticking point, with Allina wanting to move all nurses onto the corporate plans available to other employees. Even when the union agreed to phase out nurses-only insurance, disagreement remained over how that should be done. Union members rejected an earlier company proposal Oct. 3.
The deal reached Tuesday would phase out nurses-only health plans by 2018, requiring union nurses to move onto corporate plans used by Allina’s other employees.
Nurse Patricia Stoj said she was disappointed to lose the nurses-only plan, but she still voted in favor of the contract.
“We walked for six weeks to get basically the same thing” the company was offering before the strike, Stoj said.
But she added that the corporate plans are still more affordable than what she’d been able find shopping for policies on her own.
The most recent proposal grants nurses enrolled in the corporate plans additional employer contributions annually from 2017 to 2021. The contract also limits the changes Allina can make to the nurses-only plans through 2018 and its most popular corporate plan through the end of 2021.
In addition to health care, the Minnesota Nurses Association has expressed concern about workplace safety and hospital staffing.
The staffing issue was of primary concern to Pat Johansen Strain, who said patients are coming in with greater needs than at any other time in her 33-year nursing career.
Johansen Strain said she is hopeful the agreement will lead to more reasonable nurse-to-patient ratios in Allina’s facilities.
She added that she believes the strike has raised public awareness of the issue, and would like to see the state Legislature take it up during its 2017 session.
Enright said she and many of the other nurses feel betrayed by Allina, adding that the company seems more concerned with its bottom line than its employees.
“I think Allina, if they wanted to, they could’ve done more,” Enright said of the contract. “They care more about the money.”
Nick Woltman contributed to this report.