Minneapolis area nurses back to work following strike

MINNEAPOLIS – Thousands of nurses returned to work Sunday at five Allina Health hospitals in the Minneapolis area following a seven-day strike mainly over the cost of their health insurance.

The Minnesota Nurses Association and its 4,800 members began their strike June 19 after failing to negotiate a new three-year contract with Allina Health.

The union issued a statement saying members feel farther apart from the company and less optimistic about an agreement following the strike. Nurses wanted to negotiate other aspects of a new contract, other than starting with the cost of the larger issue of health insurance, said union spokesman Rick Fuentes.

“There are many other things on the table other than the elephant in the room,” Fuentes said.

The nurses also have concerns over workplace safety and staffing levels, which received little attention at the bargaining table while the health insurance issue was unresolved.

Allina’s chief executive, Dr. Penny Wheeler, says the company is eager to get back to the bargaining table. But, “both sides need to be willing to talk about a health plan transition,” she said. No talks have been scheduled.

Allina used 1,400 replacement nurses, recruited from around the country by three staffing agencies, to stay open during the strike. The replacements prompted the union to file a series of allegations with regulatory agencies. Among them, the nurses claim one patient died during a medication error. Other allegations deal with poor disposal of needles.

Allina officials say all the allegations that have been investigated so far have turned out to be false. The activity level at all the hospitals continued at a sustained pace, Wheeler said.

Fuentes said another strike is possible if a new contract offer is received that members reject.

The Allina Health hospitals include Abbott Northwestern and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, United in St. Paul, Unity in Fridley and Mercy in Coon Rapids.