Minnesota nurses, Allina Health ready to negotiate again

MINNEAPOLIS – The union that represents thousands of nurses who are on strike in Minnesota said Tuesday it is ready to return to the bargaining table after rejecting Allina Health’s latest contract offer.

Minnesota Nurses Association spokesman Rick Fuentes said no date has been set to resume negotiations, but that he anticipates it will be soon.

“It’s our turn to present. It will move forward toward an agreement,” Fuentes told The Associated Press.

Nurses at five Allina hospitals in the Twin Cities metro have been on strike since Labor Day, hoping to persuade the company to maintain their health benefits and address safety concerns. They turned down the company’s latest offer Monday.

Allina Health said the proposal would have allowed the 4,800 nurses represented by the union to keep their current health insurance benefits for the duration of the three-year contract. But thereafter the company would achieve its main goal of phasing out the four union-backed insurance plans, which Allina says are too costly to maintain, by the end of 2019.

“This proposal was eminently fair and went very far in addressing the issues the union raised during negotiations,” Allina spokesman David Kanihan said in a statement. “We are disappointed that our nurses will remain on strike instead of returning to the bedside to care for patients.”

He said Allina was ready to return to negotiations as soon as possible.

Nurses returned to the picket lines Tuesday, the 30th day of the strike. The longest nurses’ strike in Minnesota, in 1984, lasted 38 days.

The hospitals affected by the strike are Abbott Northwestern and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, United in St. Paul, Mercy in Coon Rapids and Unity in Fridley.

Allina says it has kept the hospitals running close to normally by hiring more than 1,000 temporary nurses from across the country. The company also says more than 500 nurses have crossed the picket lines and continued to work.

While the company has declined to say how much the current strike is costing, it has said that a one-week nurses strike in June cost it more than $20 million, primarily because of the high costs for wages and expenses for the replacements.