Nurses in Minnesota are in the middle of a 3-day strike
Thousands of Minnesota nurses are on strike. They walked off the job yesterday to protest poor working conditions at several local hospitals. The nurses demand changes to their shift schedules and higher wages, and the strike also highlights the nationwide nursing shortage that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. And there are signs that similar strikes could happen in other states. For more, we're joined by Minnesota Public Radio health reporter Michelle Wiley. Michelle, the hospital and the nurses have been negotiating for a while now. What issues have kept them apart?
MICHELLE WILEY, BYLINE: Yeah, so there are a number of issues that are still on the table. Nurses are asking for, you know, things around safety, for staff retention, so keeping people from leaving for more lucrative positions or from leaving the profession altogether. Wages is an issue. As you mentioned, there's a pretty wide gulf between what nurses are asking for and what the hospitals are offering. But one of the key issues is staffing levels. Many of the nurses I spoke to on the picket line say staffing is their No. 1 issue. Tricia Ryshkus is a nurse at Children's Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis and a member of the negotiating team there.
TRICIA RYSHKUS: We do the work. We're the kid experts. We're the ones that take care of the patients. We need a say in how things go.
WILEY: At a press conference Monday, nurses actually said they'd be willing to come down on what they've asked for in wage increases - that's 30% over three years - if hospitals were willing to meet their demands over staffing. But so far, they say, they haven't made much progress on that issue.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, I know there's a lot of hospitals involved in this. That means hundreds of patients. How is this affecting care for these patients?
WILEY: Yeah. So just to add some context, nurses voted to authorize this strike in August. So hospitals have had some time to hire travel nurses to come fill in. That said, the Twin Cities Hospitals Group, which represents several of the impacted facilities, says there will likely be interruptions in service. There could be some longer wait times that folks experience. So they are encouraging people with nonemergency needs to seek out other venues like urgent care or a telehealth appointment.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, normally, there's not a set number of days for a strike when it happens, but this is specifically a three-day strike. So how did they come up with three days?
WILEY: Yeah, so when nurses authorized the strike, they were required to give 10 days of notice. They also voted on how long they wanted to walk out for, and they landed on those three days. So this isn't like we've seen in some strikes where we'll reach the end and there could be an extension. Union officials have been very clear. This strike will end Thursday morning at 7 a.m.
MARTÍNEZ: OK, but what if there's no resolution after these three days, after it's supposed to be over?
WILEY: You know, this came up at a press conference on Monday with the union president, Mary Turner, and this is what she had to say.
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MARY TURNER: The strike ends at 7 a.m., and we continue in our contract fight. If you're going to ask for strategy beyond these three days, that we have to go back as a group to figure out.
WILEY: I think what this has shown is that the nurses are willing to take this step. You know, what's sort of unique about this strike is union officials told me that they don't have a traditional strike fund. So folks out this week are unpaid. And that just shows that they're really serious about the issues that they've raised and are willing to walk out without pay over them.
MARTÍNEZ: That's Michelle Wiley from Minnesota Public Radio telling us about the nurses strike in Minnesota. Michelle, thanks.
WILEY: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.