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Northland nurses rally before strike

The Minnesota Nurses Association held a rally Sunday at 5 p.m. to provide updates and prepare for the strike Monday morning.

Nurses and supporters hold a rally.
Nurses and supporters react to speaker Alex Livadaros during a rally outside Duluth City Hall on Sunday. Nurses represented by the MNA are scheduled to strike at 7 a.m. Monday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Northland nurses with the Minnesota Nurses Association gathered Sunday with community supporters ahead of the likely historic strike set to begin 7 a.m. Monday. Over 200 nurses and community members met on the steps of Duluth City Hall dressed in red and carrying signs of support

"Last night at negotiating tables across the state, including St. Luke's and Essentia Health, management walked away from negotiations," said MNA first vice president Chris Rubesch, who works as a cardiac nurse at Essentia Health. "They walked away because we refused to drop our staffing priorities."

Nurses across the state have been in contract negotiations since March, and have been working without contracts since July 1. MNA members raised their frustrations with administration including unsafe staffing levels and low retention rates. Nurses are also asking for a more than 30% raise over three years, which Duluth hospital executives have countered with offers of about 10% over three years.

The Minnesota Nurses Association has planned a three-day strike beginning Monday at several local health care facilities.

"Tomorrow morning at 7 a.m., 15,000 nurses from between the Twin Ports to Moose Lake to the Twin Cities will walk off the job in the largest nursing strike in American history," Rubesch said. "We are taking this extraordinary step because we want the care we deliver each and every day to be of the highest standard possible."

Nurses and supporters hold a rally.
Lance, left, and Vaughn Wyatt staple signs onto wood laths before the MNA rally Sunday. Their mother is a St. Luke’s nurse.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Speakers at the rally, such as St. Luke's nurse Andrea Rubesch, emphasized that they did not want to strike but would do so if an agreement could not be met. Andrea serves on the negotiations team and said that both sides had been negotiating for the better part of the last four days before management walked away from the table without countering the nurses' latest package proposal.

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Nurses and supporters hold a rally.
St. Luke’s nurse Andrea Rubesch speaks during the Sunday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

"We remain willing to negotiate until the final hours in hopes of avoiding a strike," Andrea said. "We will do whatever it takes to come to an agreement on a contract that not only protects our nurses, but ultimately protects all of our families and friends in this community that we love so much."

A group of medical students from the University of Minnesota Duluth showed up in solidarity with the nurses.

Nurses and supporters hold a rally.
Dakota MacColl, a medical student at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota Medical School, raises an arm while speaking.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

"I'm here today with my colleagues to tell you that we are listening," said first year medical student Dakota MacColl. "You work tirelessly, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and what do you have to show for it? Terrible nurse-to-patient ratios, burnout, extra shifts to make ends meet and emotional breakdowns in the bathrooms. Some around here say this strike is a selfish action and that it's all about money. Anyone who thinks this is about money hasn't seen what we see."

The rally ended with chants such as "MNA, every day" and "This is what a community looks like." Attendees took home their signs to prepare for the next day.

Nurses and supporters hold a rally.
Nurses and their supporters listen to a speaker during the MNA rally.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Nurses and supporters hold a rally.
Nurse Sara Lambert becomes emotional while talking about how Essentia Health has treated nurses at Moose Lake since it bought the community’s hospital.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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