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Nurses at Moose Lake clinic reach tentative deal while 15,000 others vote on second strike

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Nurses at Moose Lake clinic reach tentative deal while 15,000 others vote on second strike

Nov 30, 2022 | 1:31 pm ET
By Max Nesterak
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Nurses at Moose Lake clinic reach tentative deal while 15,000 others vote on second strike
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Nurses picket in front of Allina's United Hospital and Children's Minnesota in St. Paul on Sept. 12, 2022, the first day of a three-day strike at 15 hospitals across the Twin Cities and Duluth area. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The union representing about 50 nurses at Essentia Health’s Moose Lake Clinic reached a tentative agreement with the health system on Monday after two years of negotiations.

The nurses at Moose Lake called off their strike authorization vote, but 15,000 other union nurses at hospitals across the Twin Cities and Duluth area began voting on a second strike on Wednesday over wages and staffing levels.

Neither Essentia Health nor the Minnesota Nurses Association would provide details about the tentative agreement, which nurses must vote to ratify before Dec. 9.

“Both parties worked hard at the bargaining table in pursuit of a contract that benefits our nurses, our organization and — most importantly — our patients,” Essentia Health said a statement. “This outcome exemplifies what is possible through good-faith negotiations.”

Nurses at 16 hospitals at seven of the state’s largest health systems have narrowed the gap in wage proposals significantly since thousands of nurses walked off the job for three days in September, in the largest private sector nurses strike in U.S. history.

The nurses’ union is proposing 20-22.5% wage increases over the next three years, down from 39% at the beginning of negotiations nearly nine months ago. Some hospitals have countered with as much as 14.5% over three years, the largest raises nurses have seen in 15 years.

A second strike threatens to disrupt care as hospitals are already nearly overwhelmed with an increase in RSV, COVID-19 and the flu. Patients must already wait for hours to be seen in emergency rooms.

“The (emergency department) is a disaster zone,” said Amy McGlone, a nurse at Children’s Minnesota in St. Paul, during a Wednesday news conference. “They are working sometimes with only four to five nurses. And they have a waiting room of 75 kids.”

Another key sticking point in negotiations is over staffing levels, which nurses say are dangerously low and driving health care workers out of the profession.

The nurses’ union is advocating for staff nurses to have a say in the staffing levels on each unit. Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner said Wednesday that the union has recently altered its proposal on staffing levels from requiring half of nurses to approve staffing changes to requiring hospitals to reevaluate levels if patient injuries increase above a certain threshold.

Ceding any authority over staffing levels has been a non-starter for hospitals.