Striking Allina nurses reject contract offer

Striking Allina Health nurses on October 3 voted to reject the company’s latest contract offer.

The nurses, members of the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), have been on strike since September 5.

With their health insurance set to expire, the company thought that if it repackaged an old contract offer, the nurses might be willing to break ranks and return to work.

But the nurses said, “no thank you.”

“We felt that although some progress was made in negotiations with Allina, it wasn’t enough progress,” said Angela Becchette, an RN and negotiating team member.

Allina Health owns a string of hospitals and clinics in the Minneapolis-St.Paul. It employs 4800 nurses at its health care facilities and 4200 of them have been on strike for a month.

With the assistance of a federal mediator, negotiations between the union and Allina have continued during the strike.

On September 29, Allina made a contract offer that it thought would get nurses back to work.

But the new offer didn’t address the nurses’ main concerns–health care insurance and staffing.

The MNA negotiating team presented the company’s offer latest to members for a vote without making a recommendation.

Rose Roach, MNA executive director, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the nurses vote on Allina’s offer was “a resounding” no.

The secret-ballot election took place on October 3.

“Each of (the  nurses) voted with their conscience, and with their patients and their families in mind,” said Roach to the Star Tribune.

Allina’s stubborn stance on its health care proposal is one of the main reasons that nurses rejected the company’s offer.

Since negotiations began last spring, Allina has insisted that nurses give up their union sponsored low-cost, high-quality health insurance and enroll in its high-deductible corporate health care plan.

MNA proposed a compromise that would lead to the gradual transfer of nurses from the union’s plan to the corporate plan and would compensate nurses for the money they would lose by transferring to the corporate plan.

In its latest offer the company continued to insist that nurses bear the financial burden of the transfer.

“Nurses felt that the (company’s latest) proposal took more away from nurses than it offered,” said Becchetti, explaining why nurses rejected the company offer.  “Nurses said they would end their affordable health care plans in the year 2020, but they haven’t been adequately compensated for it.”

Allina’s response to nurses’ concerns about under staffing also underwhelmed the nurses.

Speaking on Minnesota Public Radio, Becchetti said that Allina’s hospital floors are continually understaffed, putting patients’ health and lives at risk.

For the striking nurses, understaffing and the risks it poses to patients is even more important than health care insurance.

“We need more resources on the floor” because our patients’ lives are on the line, said Becchetti.

But the company offered only to study staffing issues.

Another concern of the nurses is safety. Nursing involves heavy lifting, exposure to contagious diseases,  and dealing from time to time with unruly, uncooperative, and violent patients.

In the latest round of negotiations, nurses and the company managed to make some progress on safety issues. Allina agreed to keep a full-time security guard in the emergency room and implement face-to-face workplace safety training.

For some reason Allina has been reluctant to reach a fair agreement with the nurses.

MNA has reached agreements with other hospitals in the area that did not include health care cuts like those proposed by Allina.

Allina could have had the same deal, but instead, it chose to spend millions to hire replacement workers during the strike.

There’s no way to know how much prolonging the strike is costing Allina, but MPR News reports a seven-day nurses strike last June cost Allina an extra $20 million.

Allina may be willing to suffer short-term losses in order to assure creditors that it can control its workers.

Allina, which describes itself as a non-profit health care company, has taken on $880 million in debt.

Some of that debt has been used to buy Health Catalyst, a for-profit health technology company, Regina Medical Center, a hospital, nursing home complex in Hastings, Courage Center, a company that provides rehabilitation services in Minneapolis, and a county hospital in Faribault, Minnesota.

Perhaps, Allina needs to convince its lenders that it can control its workforce and keep labor costs down, so that it can pay its debts in full and on time. And  maybe even borrow some more money.

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