What’s taking Allina Health so long?
By Barbara Brady
MNA Communications Specialist
While MNA nurses in Duluth and Superior were working to reach a tentative agreement with Essentia Health on a new three-year contract this week, MNA nurses in the Twin Cities were preparing for a second strike against Allina Health.
Why is this a tale of two or four cities? There’s no reason Allina can’t follow Essentia’s lead and negotiate a contract that benefits the nurses and their employer. Nurses really do put the care in healthcare. They provide the value for the hospital. Often, they are the first and last faces a patient sees when they’re admitted and discharged.
There are many similarities in the two sets of negotiations. Both started out with management proposing unreasonable concessions on health insurance and other key issues. Essentia proposed a long list of unacceptable concessions, including major changes to time off benefits, overtime payments, staffing plan development, and nurses’ health insurance plans. Nurses stood strong with their own list of proposals based on member input that, among other things, would improve safe staffing and workplace safety.
Over the months of negotiations, the parties reached tentative agreements on several key issues, including the creation of a workplace violence prevention committee that includes nurses and goes beyond the minimum requirements in the new law.
“Our team was united and had the support of the membership,” said Bargaining Unit Co-Chair Steve Strand. “Essentia kept insisting on concessions and we kept saying “no” while finding some areas we could agree on.”
Essentia nurses went to the public with their concerns about the corporation’s refusal to negotiate fairly, starting with members appearing before the Duluth City Council to seek support. Nurses also marched on the boss; posted billboards saying, “Has Essentia lost the care in healthcare? Ask an MNA nurse”; and held an informational picket attended by more than 600 nurses and supporters.
The message got through: Essentia apparently saw that the public supports nurses and that MNA members were standing strong. Essentia agreed to a new contract on August 31 that retains one of the nurses’ contract health plans and prevent Essentia from diminishing that plans’ benefits. Nurses agreed to eliminate one of their two plans in exchange for a long list of improvements to make up for any losses they might incur with health insurance changes. Improvements to the contract include:
- Nurses will retain their protection from any diminishment in benefits
- Measures to improve staffing by allowing nurses to permanently add to their FTEs beyond what is current allowed to ensure higher numbers of nurses caring for patients
- A $300 bonus upon ratification
- An additional $300 bonus in July 2017
- Substantial increases to each level of the existing annual longevity bonus
- Increases to all shift differentials
- An increase to the weekend bonus
- Bonuses for nurses moving to the remaining health insurance plan; and for nurses already on that plan
“The negotiating team believes this agreement makes major improvements to our contract that benefit nurses and our patients,” Strand said. “Our advice to Allina nurses and all others in negotiations: stand strong in solidarity. It can work.”
Essentia nurses will vote on the tentative agreement on Sept. 8. The MNA negotiating committee is recommending members vote in favor of it. Allina is still demanding draconian concessions from nurses. It’s time Allina follows Essentia’s example and agree to a fair contract so everyone can focus on what’s important: caring for patients.