Allina nurses vote to end strike after months of negotiations and 6 weeks off the job

Allina Health nurses voted Thursday to approve a contract offer from their Minneapolis-based employer, ending nine months of contentious negotiations in which they went on strike twice, according to a Star Tribune report.

The latest offer from Allina, which required a simple majority vote, was similar to a contract offer nurses rejected Oct. 3, but it provided enough new financial incentives and guarantees about health benefits to gain favor from nurses, according to the article.

However, that doesn't mean the vote was necessarily easy for nurses.

"This was the worst and hardest vote ever," emergency room nurse Dawn Marie Sachwitz told the Star Tribune after voting for the contract Thursday afternoon. "I filled in a circle, erased it, and put in another one."

With the latest vote, Allina nurses striking at five Minnesota hospitals are slated to return to work as early as 7 a.m. Sunday, as Allina rotates out replacement nurses Allina hired to work during the latest strike, according to the report.

More than 4,000 Allina nurses, represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association, began their walkout on Labor Day at five Minnesota hospitals following a week-long strike in June. After nurses voted Oct. 3 to reject an offer from Allina, strikes over health benefits, staffing and safety concerns continued at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, United Hospital in St. Paul, Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and Unity Hospital in Fridley.

Announcing vote results Thursday, nurse Angela Becchetti said she wished Allina would have arrived at concessions in this contract, such as 24-hour security in all five emergency rooms, earlier, according to the report.

"This never should have happened — the hard feelings, the strike, none of it," said Ms. Becchetti, a member of the bargaining team for the MNA.

Moving forward, it will be important to overcome the emotions and divisions that emerged during the latest strike, said Mandy Richards, RN, MSN, United Hospital's CNO, in the article. "We [need to] look at what we have in common, and that is to care for our patients and their families in the best way possible," she said.

Allina also released a statement Thursday: "We appreciate the nurses’ ratification of the agreement. On Sunday morning, Oct. 16, at the 7 a.m. shift change, Allina Health nurses will return to the bedside, as we continue to provide high-quality care to our patients and communities," health system officials said.

A key sticking point in the dispute between Allina and its 4,800 nurses has been the nurses' health insurance.

Allina wanted to eliminate the nurses' union-backed health plans, which include high premiums but low or no deductibles, and move the nurses to its corporate plans, reports the Star Tribune. Allina has estimated that eliminating the nurses' union-backed health plans would save the health system $10 million per year.

The Star Tribune reports that Allina ultimately got what it wanted, but guaranteed benefit levels of its most popular corporate plan through 2021 and provided nurses up to $2,500 over the next five years in their health reimbursement or savings accounts.

This compromise, the report notes, came Tuesday after a 17-hour negotiating session arranged by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. The union recommended that nurses approve the agreement.

The dispute, though, has been costly for Allina, which incurred $20.4 million of expenses related to the seven-day strike in June. According to the report, the health system spent even more than that to cover the 37-day strike this fall.

 

More articles on human capital and risk:

New labor contract for Hazel Hawkins Memorial nurses includes raise
Striking nurses revamp voting method for Monday’s decision on Allina’s latest offer
Hahnemann University Hospital nurses picket over staffing levels

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