Thousands of Allina Health nurses represented by the Minnesota Nurses Association labor union are ending a five-week strike after reaching a tentative agreement with the health system Tuesday on outstanding contract issues.
Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association, part of National Nurses United, are expected to vote Thursday on the agreement, which is unanimously endorsed by union leadership, according to statements released Tuesday by both the union and Allina.
Nurses should be back to work within 72 hours of the vote, a union spokesman said.
The two groups reached the agreement (PDF) after a 17-hour negotiation session that began Monday at Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's residence. Under the three-year contract, nurse-only health insurance plans will be phased out completely by the end of 2018, and Allina will provide nurses with additional contributions to their health reimbursement arrangements or health savings accounts, depending on the plan, in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Allina also said it agreed not to make any changes that would diminish the value of the Allina First health plan for all employees through the end of 2021. The Allina First plan is the health system's most popular “core” plan with a $300 deductible, lower premiums and a $3,500 out-of-pocket maximum.
Finally, under the contract, a task force will be created to evaluate the circumstances under which charge nurses take patient assignments and help to ensure the resources are best used for patient benefit.
The agreements reached on outstanding issues are in addition to issues settled in previous sessions, Allina said.
“The day when our nurses will come back to the bedside now feels close at hand,” Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina president and CEO, said in a message sent to Allina Health employees Tuesday. “With unanimous support from the union bargaining committee, I have high hopes that our nurses will vote to accept this agreement so that we can begin the return to work process as soon as possible.”
“The nurses have shown remarkable strength and courage to earn improvements in workplace safety, nurse staffing policies, and multi-year contributions to accounts that will ease their transition from their contract health insurance plans to Allina core plans,” Rose Roach, executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said in a statement. “Nurses have cooperated with easing out of these plans and deserve to be protected through any future benefit reductions by Allina Health, which the company has provided."
The strike represents about 4,800 nurses at five Allina hospitals in Minnesota: Abbott Northwestern Hospital and the Phillips Eye Institute, both in Minneapolis; Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids; Unity Hospital in Fridley; and United Hospital in St. Paul.
Allina has kept operations running through 1,500 replacement nurses, who will leave once the Allina nurses return to work. As of Sunday, 639 Allina Health nurses had already crossed the picket line, and the others on strike had begun paying COBRA rates for their health insurance, according to an Allina update last weekend.
The latest agreement is the culmination of negotiations that have carried on since February. Contracts expired in May without a new deal and the nurses rejected two proposals over the summer, the first leading to an initial weeklong strike in June that cost Allina $20.4 million in temporary labor charges and other costs.
Nurses have been now striking since Labor Day after they rejected the 13-hospital system's proposed contract in late August. Early this month, the nurses again voted to remain on strike after rejecting another updated contract proposal that included no additional concessions from the health system, the union said in a statement at the time. The union negotiations team made no recommendation on that proposal.
A major sticking point in the negotiations has been the nurses' health insurance. While Allina proposed to transition union nurses to health plans with lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket spending, the nurses wanted to keep their 20-year-old nurse-only plan that features higher premiums and little cost-sharing.