Thousands of Minnesota nurses threaten to strike amid contract negotiations

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(Reuters) – Thousands of nurses seeking a new contract with hospitals in Minnesota are threatening to walk off the job later in December, the Minnesota Nurses Association announced on Thursday, less than three months after staging a three-day strike over working conditions.

Nurses plan to go on strike on Dec. 11 in the absence of an agreement, according to a press release. The union of 15,000 nurses said many members have worked without a contract since the end of May. They voted on Tuesday to authorize an unfair labor practices strike that could last at least through year end.

The nurses are staffed at 16 hospitals, including at medical centers in the Minneapolis and Duluth metropolitan areas. The union accused hospitals of unfair labor practices, including wage collusion and direct dealing with union members.

Contract negotiations in the Twin Cities and Twin Ports regions have been ongoing since March.

“Our hospitals are in crisis, and our CEOs have failed nurses and patients,” MNA President Mary Turner said in a statement. “They have failed to solve the crisis of patient care, and they have failed to solve the crisis of working conditions pushing nurses away from the bedside.”

Affected hospital systems include University of Minnesota-backed M Health Fairview and Allina Health, among others.

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Nurses at St. Luke’s Lake View Hospital also voted to join in the strike.

Allina Health said in a statement on Wednesday it is “deeply disappointed” by the strike authorization and noted that both sides had made progress in negotiations. The health system called for an independent mediator to resolve oustanding issues.

“While we are hopeful a deal can be reached, we want to assure the public that we have plans in place to continue caring for our community with as few disruptions to care as possible,” the statement said.

M Health Fairview did not immediately return a request for comment.

A contract for nurses in the Minneapolis area expired at the end of May, while nurses in the Duluth region have worked without a contract since late June. A contract for nurses at St. Luke’s Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors lapsed in September, the association said.

Employment in healthcare across the United States remains below pre-pandemic levels, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The agency reported in September that the health-care industry employed about 37,000 fewer people than it did in February 2020.

The group carried out a three-day strike in September to protest understaffing at some 13 hospitals.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford; Editing by David Gregorio)