Nurses, community rally as 3-day strike ends
Despite an interruption from a fire near Essentia St. Mary's hospital, hundreds of nurses and community supporters rallied at both Essentia and St. Luke's to close out the third and final day of the strike and pickets.
DULUTH — Several hundred nurses, family members, other health care employees and community members gathered Wednesday evening at downtown's Essentia and St. Luke's hospitals to end the third day of pickets after Minnesota Nurses Association members conducted a three-day strike from 7 a.m. Monday to 6:59 a.m. Thursday.
The rally was temporarily disrupted by a fire at Lake Superior Medical Supply that broke out just a few buildings away from Essentia St. Mary's hospital about 10 minutes after the rally began. Nurses in the audience, who were gathered behind the Ronald McDonald House, saw the smoke and called the fire department during the rally.
The nurses were diverted back toward the hospital, then most headed to St. Luke's hospital to reconvene with remaining speakers.
The approximately 2,500 MNA nurses in Duluth and Superior held the strike alongside nurses at five Twin Cities hospital systems. The 15,000 total nurses who walked off the job made history for the largest private-sector nursing strike in the United States.
"I didn't come out here to make history," said Larissa Hubbartt, a nurse at St. Luke's. "I don't think we're all out here to make history. We're here to make things better in our own little corner of the world, and if we had to make history to do that, I think we succeeded."
Essentia nurse Marcia Swanson said even though the strike is over, the nurses still have work to do at the bargaining table to settle their contracts. She and other nurses once again emphasized the points they most hope to address in their contract negotiations — safe staffing, workplace dignity, nurse retention and fair wages and benefits. They return to work Thursday, and are scheduling their next negotiation meetings with the health care systems.
"I think that in 40 years of working in medical ICU, I know I can see a crisis, and I think that we're talking about a crisis here," said Steve Strand, a registered nurse at Essentia. "We need to be fixing staffing. We've been talking about staffing for 20 years — longer than that — and we need to solve that."
Other speakers at the rally included Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, state Rep. Liz Olson, state Sen. Jen McEwen and House of Representatives candidate Alicia Kozlowski.
Chris Rubesch, MNA first vice president and a nurse at Essentia, said more than dozen area unions joined them on the picket lines. Swanson added that several Duluth restaurants and community outreach organizations donated food.
Essentia and St. Luke's have both said they will welcome the nurses back to work Thursday morning, despite their belief that the strike was not held legally. Both Duluth health care systems filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the MNA did not alert the proper mediation entities, and Essentia filed an additional claim that Essentia Health-Duluth Miller-Dwan was not included in the 10-day strike notice.
Rubesch encouraged all nurses to return to work Thursday wearing their red MNA T-shirts.
"What's going to happen next? We're going to go back to the table and we're going to make sure that they heard your voices and that they address your concerns," Rubesch said. "Whatever happens next, we're going to make that choice together."