Our View: Call in mediator to head off nurses strike

From the editorial: "Clearly, there is common ground and shared goals, and kudos to both sides for continuing to talk. But another nurses strike ... wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest."

Woman holding a baby speaks at a news conference.
Andrea Rubesch holds her son Oskar while speaking at the Duluth MNA news conference Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Rubesch, a St. Luke’s nurse and a member of the union negotiating team, noted that she was pregnant with Oskar when this process began and that he will be five months old on Saturday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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Complaining about unsafe staffing levels and how they are endangering patients’ health, nurses and their union in Duluth and the Twin Cities last week announced their intent to go on strike. This, of course, would result in even less-safe staffing levels.

Nobody wants that, so, before getting to that point — and because months of negotiations between the nurses and hospital administrators have failed to reach a deal — the nurses, their union, Essentia Health, and St. Luke’s hospital can all at least agree on this: “It is time to bring in federal mediation,” as Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Baumgartner first urged in August in a commentary in the News Tribune.

“I am asking that both sides negotiate as good-faith partners who want nurses compensated fairly and health care that is available, sustainable, and affordable,” Baumgartner wrote, praising both the “amazing community of nurses here in the Northland” and the “excellent leaders at our hospitals.”

If it was time for federal mediation then, it’s certainly still time now with a Dec. 11 strike date looming for three weeks of picket lines at Twin Cities hospitals and at Essentia hospitals in Duluth and Superior and indefinite strikes at St. Luke's hospitals in Duluth and Two Harbors. Nurses could be on strike over the holidays and during the crush of procedures scheduled ahead of deductibles resetting at the end of the year.

“Patients are not receiving the quality of care that our communities and our families deserve. They are not receiving the quality of care that you deserve,” Essentia–St. Mary’s Medical Center nurse Corrine Schraufnagel said at a news conference Thursday in Duluth, according to News Tribune coverage.


Encouragingly, "St. Luke’s is committed to working towards a resolution,” the hospital said in a statement, also Thursday. “We will stay at the table as long as (progress) continues.”

Also encouragingly, “We believe an agreement that benefits our nurses and ensures the sustainability of high-quality care in the communities we are privileged to serve is within reach," Essentia said in its own statement.

Clearly, there is common ground and shared goals, and kudos to both sides for continuing to talk.

But another nurses strike, they have to know — now less than a week away and counting down — wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest: not our communities, which need available health care; not our hospitals, which need to be operating and financially viable; not nurses, who don’t want to be away from their patients or paychecks; and certainly not anyone hospitalized or with an upcoming appointment, for whom safe staffing levels could literally mean life or death.

If hospital or union leadership can’t find agreement on their own — and they haven't so far — mediation seems a logical next step.

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