Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) took to the streets in Duluth, Minnesota to, “show Essentia and St. Luke’s hospitals we are united in fighting for a fair contract.” 

“Nurses came to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract that addresses the critical staffing shortage and provides compensation that keeps up with the cost of living,” said Chris Rubesch, Registered Nurse at Essentia. “We’ve been negotiating for three months, and the hospitals refuse to take our proposals to address the most pressing issues seriously.”

In an emailed response to a question regarding the picket Essentia stated, 

“We value the contributions of our skilled and compassionate nurses and respect their right to conduct informational picketing as part of the contract negotiation process. It’s important to note that our nurses are not on strike and our hospitals will be open as usual, providing quality care to our patients and their families.”

The last three-year contract expired on June 30. While some progress has been reached, MNA asserts that both hospitals still propose to take away benefits for nurses, and the hospitals’ wage offers continue to lag behind what nurses in the Twin Cities won in negotiations in June. 

“Nurses are proposing ideas to improve staffing, like bringing in and keeping more nurses, so there are enough nurses on every shift to care for patients properly,” said Pete Boyechko, Registered Nurse at St. Luke’s. “Our proposals include student loan reimbursements to attract new nurses; and financial incentives to recruit and retain nurses.” 

According to MNA under one current management proposal, St. Luke’s nurses would lose two weeks of benefit time or the equivalent of $3400 in benefits per year. Essentia nurses would lose 88 hours of time off and $4,600 a year if they had to change sick and vacation time systems.

In an emailed response from St. Luke’s Sue Hamel, RN, St. Luke’s Vice President/Chief Nursing Officer stated the following,

We have tremendous nurses who do an incredible job caring for patients at St. Luke’s. We respect their right to hold an informational picket today and appreciate that all staff members are reporting for scheduled shifts….We have been making solid progress at the negotiations table and look forward to continuing our discussions in the near future. We are working hard to arrive at a fair contract that recognizes nurses for their role while also keeping in mind what is in the best interests of all employees and striving to maintain affordable health care.

Safe staffing is an urgent issue across hospitals in the United States and is no different for all Twin Ports nurses. Nurses report the hospitals are not scheduling, recruiting, and retaining enough nurses to fill every shift every day and night. 

“If nurses have too many patients to care for at one time, they can’t provide the care patients need and deserve, and can lead to unsafe conditions. Nurses’ top priority is patient care, but we can’t do our best when we have too many patients to care for at one time,” Rubesch said.  

Essentia nurses negotiate again Wednesday, August 21. St. Luke’s nurses have proposed more bargaining sessions, but the hospital has offered no new dates.

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