Thousands of Nurses Strike in Minnesota

Union organizers call it the largest nurse strike in U.S. history.

ByABC News
May 21, 2010, 2:08 PM

June 10, 2010 — -- Thousands of nurses in Minneapolis and St. Paul walked off the job today in what union organizers there call the largest nursing strike in U.S. history.

About 12,000 nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association are expected to walk picket lines today in front of 14 different hospitals in the Twin Cities. At least 4,000 nurses were already on the lines last this morning, union spokesman John Nemo said. The strike, he said, will last until 7 a.m. Friday morning, when the nurses will report back to work.

The union voted for the strike last month after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract with the hospital organization Twin Cities Hospitals.

Union members have said that hospital staff is spread too thin and they're opposed to hospital plans that would allow more flexibility in switching nurses from one department to another. They argue that hospitals should better plan nurse assignments so such switching wouldn't be necessary.

"They're not willing to hire and invest in the staffing that we need," Nellie Munn,33, a nurse at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, told recently. "Nurses have to stand up for patients now."

The hospitals, meanwhile, say they're just doing what they can to keep health care affordable while grappling with cuts to state funding and continuing to invest in technology and facilities improvements.

Maureen Schriner, a spokeswoman for Twin Cities Hospitals, said the staffing levels the union is demanding would cost the hospitals an additional $250 million a year.

"So many of the proposals the union is putting forward are so expensive and don't improve quality of patient care," she said. "The hospitals are finding that unacceptable."

Schriner said that the hospitals have hired 2,800 nurses to replace those on strike today. All hospital emergency rooms and birthing centers are fully-staffed and open, she said.

"Our focus for right now is to ensure that our patients are receiving the quality of care they've come to expect," she said.