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Nurses continue strike, pickets outside Twin Ports hospitals

The strike over contract negotiations is scheduled to end at 7 a.m. Thursday.

Two women carry picket signs
Meg Meierhoff, left, of Duluth, and Alex Lehman, of Lake Nebagamon, carry signs with other members of the Minnesota Nurses Association while striking outside Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Superior on Monday.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — The Minnesota Nurses Association continued its strike at Twin Ports hospitals Tuesday as nurses fight for safe staffing levels, protection at work, nurse retention and fair wages and benefits in their new contracts. The strike will continue from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, ending at 7 a.m. Thursday.

Hundreds of nurses and community members picketed again in front of St. Luke's hospital and Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth and at Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Superior. According to Larissa Hubbartt, a registered nurse at St. Luke's, many nurses would join the picket lines after their shifts were over, and retired nurses also joined the lines.

Essentia and St. Luke's are still fully operational during the strike.

Hubbartt spoke in a media conference Tuesday afternoon about the guilt nurses feel when they have to miss work to take care of themselves or their families. She also talked about how having a department that is short-staffed can lead to more errors and higher mortality rates in hospitals.

"We hold ourselves up to the highest standards of our profession and when we can't do our jobs, the accumulated traumas build up," Hubbartt said. "All the times we've seen patients fall, pass away, struggle — we take that in and we take it to heart. The more we work short, the more this happens. After time, people just can't do this anymore, and so they leave."

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Nurses walk picket line.
Striking nurses walk past St. Mary’s Medical Center’s in Duluth on Monday.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The nurses were joined at St. Luke's in the afternoon by several community leaders, including North East Area Labor Council President Alan Netland, state Sen. Jen McEwen and state Rep. Jen Schultz.

"We are all watching how (Essentia and St. Luke's) handle this situation and we are angry that it had to come to this," McEwen said. "We know where the responsibility for this lies — it lies with them. That the nurses of our community would find it necessary that they had to walk out and protect us and miss out on pay? Imagine the determination that it takes for that to happen."

Tara Anderson, a registered nurse at Essentia, said one aspect of change they're hoping to see in their new contracts is paid family leave. Anderson, who is pregnant, said nurses are expected to use banked vacation and sick leave for the allotted 12 weeks of otherwise unpaid maternity leave, and she hasn't worked at the hospital long enough to accumulate that. MNA members are asking Essentia and St. Luke's for four weeks of paid family leave to use in circumstances including the birth of a child, a sick family member or pregnancy loss — regardless of gestational age.

"This would help us take care of ourselves and our families so we can take care of yours," Anderson said. "The employers are asking what we need for retention, for safe staffing and agreement on contract. We're telling them what we need and they aren't listening."

No upcoming bargaining sessions have been scheduled for St. Luke's or Essentia. Hospitals continue to urge MNA to bring mediators to meetings. MNA St. Luke's co-chairs Hubbartt and Lorie Olesiak said that option is not off the table for them, but they haven't yet committed to a mediator.

Essentia and St. Luke's are part of a 15,000-nurse strike happening this week in Minnesota. Also participating are MNA members at M Health Fairview, Allina, Children's, HealthPartners Methodist and North Memorial hospitals in the Twin Cities.

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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