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On The Ground with the Minnesota Nurse’s Association (MNA)

September 12th, 2022: Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis

The evening was warm and sunny at M-Health Fairview Masonic Children’s hospital, one of several hospitals involved in the three day MNA nurse’s strike. The 60 or so striking workers were in high spirits. A short walk down Riverside Avenue towards 26th Avenue lead to a tent where the workers have set up a table stacked with snacks, t-shirts and signs. “Retain Nurses Now” and “Patients Before Profits” are examples of phrases on signs. A large banner attached to the tent visible from the road reads “A majority of nurses as Fairview Riverside and Fairview Southdale have voted no confidence in the leadership of the M-Health Fairview board of directors and CEO James Hereford”.

The picketers represent a wide variety of races, ages and national origins. Young women picket with their male counterparts alongside older members of their trade and members of the local Somali community who have found work in the nursing field. Many elderly people and retired members of the union are represented as well.

The response from the public is on the whole positive, with every second or third car laying on their horn as they pass, some with fists raised out of the driver’s window. A block away, a second picket on the bridge overlooks the rush hour traffic on Highway 94. There are numerous honks of approval, and the picketers laugh and hoot when semi-trucks blow their airhorn.

On September 12th, the workers of the MNA started their three day walkout and picket. With a staggering 15,000 workers across 15 hospitals, it is believed to be the largest ever strike of private sector nurses. Among their demands were an end to chronic short staffing that results in unsafe conditions for workers and patients alike and a 30% pay increase over three years. “We don’t want the pandemic, the short staffing and all the things, to be our new normal. We can’t do that anymore. It’s not fair to us. It’s not fair to our patients” said Tricia Ryshkus, a nurse and member of the MNA negotiating team.

The Twin Cities Hospital Group, which represents many of the hospitals who employ the MNA nurses, said they are “disappointed” by the union’s decision to strike, calling the demands for a 30% pay increase “unrealistic”. The affected hospitals bused in travel nurses in an attempt to offset the staffing shortage caused by the strike.

September 14th, Southdale Medical Center, Edina

At 4:30 pm, the mood was high at Southdale Medical Center. The strikers had set up several tables underneath a skyway passing over France Street. Stacks of red MNA shirts, buttons, and candy littered the tables. Several dozen pizza boxes were stacked high to feed the hungry picketers. A piper played for the cars passing by the busy intersection.

Whispers of a possible lock-out by management passed through the crowd, but enthusiasm did not wane. Picketers picked up their signs and made a slow procession back and forth in front of the hospital to the sound of horns and yells from the passing motorists. On the bridge over highway 62, strikers struggled to hold their signs against the strong winds blowing up from below. Parents and grandparents dressed in red pushed baby strollers and held their picket signs, making the slow and steady loop up and down the sidewalk. “Nurses are angels; Listen to them!” read a sign taped to a stop sign.

On Thursday, September 15th, the nurses of the MNA returned to work. There was no lockout. They continue to toil without a contract as the MNA and the Twin Cities Hospital Group return to the bargaining table.  On September 23rd, the MNA said in a statement “Negotiations resumed this week after hospital executives previously canceled meetings scheduled for last week. Unfortunately, hospital executives still have not shown interest in addressing the crisis of under staffing and care at the bedside that nurses have raised as a top priority. Nurses remain committed to settling fair contracts at the negotiating table to improve care and working conditions in Minnesota hospitals.” Negotiations are set to conclude October 6th.

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