ST. PAUL - After a 17-hour negotiating session, the Minnesota Nurses Association labor union and Allina Health reached a tentative contract Tuesday that could soon end a month-long strike at five area health facilities.
The two groups negotiated into the night Monday at the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul, with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, at the request of Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.
The tentative agreement is expected to be presented to union members for a vote Thursday. The union’s bargaining committee unanimously recommended ratification.
About 4,000 nurses from the MNA have been on strike since Labor Day at United Hospital in St. Paul, Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, Unity Hospital in Fridley and Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. Members rejected an earlier company proposal Oct. 3. Meanwhile, Allina has relied on 1,500 replacement nurses brought in to help cover shifts.
The tentative settlement agreement calls for picket lines at the hospitals to be taken down by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Nurses will be able to access their schedules by the second day after ratification and begin returning to work in shifts by the third day after ratification.
The strike was called over a number of workplace issues, but principally Allina’s desire to move the nurses off their union-only health insurance and onto Allina’s corporate plan that covers most other employees of the Minneapolis-based metrowide health system, including executives. The nurses’ union contended that this would be a bad deal for its members.
The tentative deal reached Tuesday would phase out nurse-only health plans sooner - by 2018 instead of 2020, the year of Allina’s previous proposal, voted down by nurses last month. However, the tentative contract also grants nurses enrolled in corporate plans additional employer contributions of $1,000 in 2019 and $500 in 2017, 2020 and 2021. The proposal voted down in September offered nurses a $700 bonus for enrolling in 2017 and $300 for enrolling in 2018.
The contributions will be nontaxable and made through a Health Reimbursement Arrangement or health savings account. The tentative contract also promises to make no changes in the value of the nurse-only plans for their duration, and in the value of the Allina First plan, which most of the system’s employees use, through the end of 2021.
Consistent with the September proposal, nurses who enroll in the Allina corporate plans will not be permitted to switch to nurse-only plans and new nurses will be able to enroll in the nurse-only plans through May 2018.
Understandings on other workplace issues reached in previous negotiation sessions were upheld in Tuesday’s tentative agreement, including 24-hour security in hospital emergency departments and the establishment of a task force to review units and shifts where charge nurses are regularly assigned patient loads that make it difficult for them to perform other duties.
The tentative agreement also establishes a Health Insurance Committee comprising management and MNA-represented nurses, that will meet four times a year to review health “insurance information, costs, benefit designs, administration issues, and trends,” according to the proposal.
The tentative agreement requires the union to dismiss all outstanding unfair labor practice charges filed against Allina over the course of negotiations.
Allina CEO Penny Wheeler acknowledged the support of the union’s leadership for the contract in a statement Tuesday, saying she expects it to be ratified.
“Now begins the process of healing. This has been an emotional time for all of us, and I know that strong feelings won’t vanish overnight. But I also know that every one of us - nurses and non-nurses alike - share a deep and abiding commitment to providing exceptional care to the communities we serve,” Wheeler’s statement said.
Allina nurses are paid between $31.27 and $48.15 an hour, with an average full-time Allina nurse’s salary at $87,298 a year, before bonuses or overtime, Allina has said. Union nurses who work 16 hours a week or more are eligible for full benefits, including health insurance and retirement.