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Nurses, community rally as 3-day strike ends

Despite an interruption from a fire near Essentia St. Mary's hospital, hundreds of nurses and community supporters rallied at both Essentia and St. Luke's to close out the third and final day of the strike and pickets.

Woman speaks to a crowd through a megaphone
Marcia Swanson, a nurse at Essentia, speaks to a crowd at the end of the three-day strike and picket at Duluth hospitals Wednesday.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Several hundred nurses, family members, other health care employees and community members gathered Wednesday evening at downtown's Essentia and St. Luke's hospitals to end the third day of pickets after Minnesota Nurses Association members conducted a three-day strike from 7 a.m. Monday to 6:59 a.m. Thursday.

The business provides oxygen concentrators, among other products.

The rally was temporarily disrupted by a fire at Lake Superior Medical Supply that broke out just a few buildings away from Essentia St. Mary's hospital about 10 minutes after the rally began. Nurses in the audience, who were gathered behind the Ronald McDonald House, saw the smoke and called the fire department during the rally.

The nurses were diverted back toward the hospital, then most headed to St. Luke's hospital to reconvene with remaining speakers.

Man with a sign saying "Support patients, support nurses" in front of building fire
Picketers from the Minnesota Nurses Association strike rally watch as firefighters battle flames behind the Lake Superior Medical Supply Company building Wednesday evening.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

The approximately 2,500 MNA nurses in Duluth and Superior held the strike alongside nurses at five Twin Cities hospital systems. The 15,000 total nurses who walked off the job made history for the largest private-sector nursing strike in the United States.

"I didn't come out here to make history," said Larissa Hubbartt, a nurse at St. Luke's. "I don't think we're all out here to make history. We're here to make things better in our own little corner of the world, and if we had to make history to do that, I think we succeeded."


The three-day strike continued Wednesday with pickets outside downtown Duluth hospitals and outside Essentia St. Mary's in Superior.
The strike over contract negotiations is scheduled to end at 7 a.m. Thursday.
The strike impacts Essentia St. Mary's hospitals in Duluth and Superior, St. Luke's hospital in Duluth and 12 Twin Cities hospitals.
The Minnesota Nurses Association held a rally Sunday at 5 p.m. to provide updates and prepare for the strike Monday morning.
The Minnesota Nurses Association has planned a three-day strike beginning Monday at several local health care facilities.

Essentia nurse Marcia Swanson said even though the strike is over, the nurses still have work to do at the bargaining table to settle their contracts. She and other nurses once again emphasized the points they most hope to address in their contract negotiations — safe staffing, workplace dignity, nurse retention and fair wages and benefits. They return to work Thursday, and are scheduling their next negotiation meetings with the health care systems.

Man speaks into megaphone
Essentia registered nurse Steve Strand, of Duluth, speaks at a rally Wednesday near St. Mary's hospital to mark the end of the three-day Minnesota Nurses Association Strike.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

"I think that in 40 years of working in medical ICU, I know I can see a crisis, and I think that we're talking about a crisis here," said Steve Strand, a registered nurse at Essentia. "We need to be fixing staffing. We've been talking about staffing for 20 years — longer than that — and we need to solve that."

A van appears to be on fire
The front of a van appears to be in flames as crews battle a fire at the rear of a building on the 500 block of East Fourth Street in Duluth on Wednesday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Other speakers at the rally included Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, state Rep. Liz Olson, state Sen. Jen McEwen and House of Representatives candidate Alicia Kozlowski.

Chris Rubesch, MNA first vice president and a nurse at Essentia, said more than dozen area unions joined them on the picket lines. Swanson added that several Duluth restaurants and community outreach organizations donated food.

A boy covers his ears as a firetruck passes
Minnesota Nurses Association picketers watch as a Duluth Fire Department truck passes them on North Fifth Avenue to battle a fire at the Lake Superior Medical Supply Co. building Wednesday.
Laura Butterbrodt / Duluth News Tribune

Essentia and St. Luke's have both said they will welcome the nurses back to work Thursday morning, despite their belief that the strike was not held legally. Both Duluth health care systems filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the MNA did not alert the proper mediation entities, and Essentia filed an additional claim that Essentia Health-Duluth Miller-Dwan was not included in the 10-day strike notice.

Rubesch encouraged all nurses to return to work Thursday wearing their red MNA T-shirts.

"What's going to happen next? We're going to go back to the table and we're going to make sure that they heard your voices and that they address your concerns," Rubesch said. "Whatever happens next, we're going to make that choice together."

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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The strike will begin Dec. 11, unless tentative contract agreements are made with hospitals before then. Nurses at Essentia and Twin Cities hospitals would strike for three weeks, until Dec. 31. St. Luke's nurses plan to strike indefinitely.
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