Nurses gathered in the basement of the Duluth Labor Temple on Tuesday, the day after the Minnesota Nurses Association held and announced the results of its strike vote.

“We are taking this unprecedented step for patient safety, to improve staff retention and for the future of the profession,” said Chris Rubesch, RN and MNA first vice president. The strike vote required a 2/3 majority to pass; bargaining units will now decide whether and when to start the 10-day strike notice.

Rubesch stressed that Nurses want to work and be with their patients, but that the situation had become so dire, they felt they needed to take this drastic step.

The main issue the Nurses want addressed is staffing levels. Keandra Schumacher, an ICU RN at Essentia, said the hospital’s message has consistently been “do more with less.”

“We’re told it’s safe for one nurse to be responsible for eight patients,” Schumacher said. “ED nurses are told to manage with a large influx of patients and slow movements of patients to the floor. We’re left with no support services and are responsible to deal with unsafe assignments.”

Both the union and individual Nurses have stressed the gravity of this action, calling it “drastic” and “unprecedented.” With about 15,000 members, an MNA strike would be one of the largest Nurses strikes in history, and would be the first time Nurses in the Twin Ports and the Twin Cities took collective action together.

Rubesch said the fact that Nurses are willing to strike for job conditions should make it clear how dire the situation is. “We want to be on the job. We look at the situations we’re walking into and know we’re willing to set them aside to take this action. We are ready to take this unprecedented, historic step to make it happen.”

Nurses at Lakeview Hospital in Two Harbors are also engaged in similar struggles, and will be holding an informational picket at the hospital from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday, August 19.

“We stand in full solidarity as one unified team, with the goal of safer staffing and making sure patients are prioritized over profits,” said Jerri Swardstrom, an RN at Lakeview. “Our priority is always te patient. With this informational picket, we want management to acknowledge the fact-based staffing concerns we’ve brought forward and ask them to help find solutions.”

While the hospital just completed a large expansion, Swardstrom said it hasn’t kept up with retention and recruitment, and has failed to staff properly for larger patients loads and acuity. “This is not sustainable,” Swardstrom said.

Rubesch said the bargaining units will now discuss where and when to give the 10-day notice. “We are well aware that our communities and families will continue to need care, and we hope that care continues to be available to them, but this problem is so severe we cannot accept the status quo anymore.”

The Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) kicked off the Labor Federation’s “Labor 2022” political program by endorsing Governor Tim Walz, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon, and State Auditor Julie Blaha for reelection.
“Working Minnesotans deserve support from their elected officials, and we believe in supporting those who support us,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bernie Burnham. “Whether it’s championing policies to improve the lives of working people or holding bad employers accountable, we can count on all five of Minnesota’s constitutional officers to have our backs.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO’s “Labor 2022” campaign is grassroots-focused program to ensure the state’s union members have the information they need before casting their votes this fall. The program’s foundation is built upon member-to-member conversations at the worksite, in neighborhoods, and on the phone with significant mail and digital outreach.
“The pandemic reminded us how important it is to have the right people serving in public office,” Burnham added. “As we work to build a state where everyone, no matter what we look like or where we live, can prosper, we must have elected leaders who stand in solidarity with working people.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO will be endorsing candidates for Congressional and State Legislative races later this spring.

Sen. Tom Bakk, the Democratic senator turned Independent from Cook, is retiring from state politics, nearly 30 years after he was first elected to the Legislature.
One of the staunchest supporters of the Iron Range, its mining and its idiosyncratic culture, Bakk, 67, developed a reputation for being a master of the inside game, always finding a way to put himself at the center of Minnesota state politics and government.
“Representing the people of the Arrowhead region has been one of the greatest rewards of my life, made possible by the support and patience of my family,” Bakk said in a statement. “My heartfelt thanks to my constituents for entrusting me to be their voice at the Capitol for so many years. I have always tried to do my best for the people I’ve served even if it was not always easy or popular with my own political party.”
When the Senate DFL failed to reclaim a majority in the November 2020 election, Bakk, a former DFL caucus leader, jumped ship and announced he was forming his own independent caucus with fellow Iron Ranger state Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who is also retiring after being diagnosed with ALS last summer.
The two Iron Range lawmakers’ abrupt move was billed as an effort to effectively advocate for their constituents. Bakk and Tomassoni were not padding then-GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s narrow 34-33 majority out of charity. In exchange for leaving the DFL caucus, they became committee chairs.
Bakk’s newly redrawn district is still expected to remain competitive. Former President Donald Trump won the district by two points in 2016, and was roughly tied with Biden in 2020. Gov. Tim Walz won the district by double digits in 2018.
Bakk is a relic of a previous legislative era: Unlike younger legislators, he is not much for the modern trappings of social media. His Twitter account, @tombakk, features zero tweets and no profile picture.
“There is still a lot more to be done but it is time for me to pass the torch,” Bakk said. “I’m certain there are new inspiring leaders waiting in the wings. For 28 years it has been my time to serve but now it is finally my time to retire.”
—Minnesota Reformer

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