Nurses in Twin Ports, Twin Cities vote to strike

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.”

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