2012 Changemaker: Minnesota nurses’ strike

One-day walkout raised awareness about health-care delivery

Photo by Chris Reinke
Photo by Chris Reinke

Twin Cities’ nurses made history on June 10, 2010, when they walked off their jobs and onto the picket line. The one-day work stoppage, which affected more than 12,000 registered nurses, was the largest-ever nursing strike in the United States.

Patient safety and protecting nurses’ contracts were key issues identified by the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) for the strike. The nurses’ concerns raised awareness about what they saw as unsafe staffing levels at hospitals and its impact on patient safety. Hospital administrations had proposed cutting the nurses’ pensions along with cuts to health insurance and changes to how units were staffed, seniority language and mandatory low-need days.

What Minnesota nurses did by their strike efforts last summer was something virtually unheard of in the current economic climate-they negotiated a union contract that had no cutbacks or concessions. That meant things the Association had spent decades working for-pension benefits and health insurance-were left intact for another three years. While some improvements and changes were agreed upon in the area of patient safety, the nurses did not ultimately get the hospitals to agree to implement the RN staffing ratios model that the MNA leaders were proposing.

Duluth nurses, inspired by the resolve and efforts of their colleagues from the Twin Cities, negotiated a contract this fall to raise staffing levels in Duluth hospitals. Revised contract language gave nurses there a more powerful voice in how their units are staffed and whether or not patient safety standards are being met.

“It kind of felt like we protected our … legacy,” said Nellie Munn, an MNA member and registered nurse who has worked for 11 years at Children’s Hospital. “There were times when I wasn’t sure we were able to fend off that attack, but we did, and I think we’re stronger than that. We survived. We influenced the way health care is delivered.””Notes and messages came from groups worldwide commending us for our courage and telling us our collective action was a source of inspiration for them,” wrote Naomi English, RN, MPH and member of the negotiating and contract bargaining committees in her September essay in the Minnesota Women’s Press. “I believe we do stand as a model for the middle class and hope our work helps women in other professions to stand up for their right to earn a decent living.”

Mary McGibbon, who has been in nursing for more than 20 years, the last 14 at Methodist Hospital, summed it up: “It felt like we were doing something extremely positive not just for the profession but for the patients and the community and the people who come through our doors. There is something we all do once in a while that just might make a difference and this was one of them.”

Be A Changemaker:
Demand greater accountability for health care outcomes in all settings. If you or someone you know has a concern about the care provided, make your voice heard. Contact the Office of Health Facility Complaints at 651-201-4201 or email health.ohfc-complaints@state.mn.us.