Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

ON STRIKE! 12,000 Minnesota nurses walk out

By Deb Konechne

Confronting scabs at the nurses strike.

Saint Paul, MN – “Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them. We are the union, the mighty mighty union…” Over 50 nurses clad in red sang verse after verse as they marched on the picket line in front of Bethesda Hospital the morning of June 10 in the largest nursing strike in U.S. history. Starting at 7:00 a.m., 12,000 Twin Cities nurses went on strike for patient safety and to retain their pensions. Bethesda Hospital, a small hospital near the State Capitol in Saint Paul, has a nursing staff of about 150 who were taking turns on the picket line during the 24-hour strike.

“The CEOs are fat cats, driving in their Cadillacs, while we’re breaking our backs, ” chanted the enthusiastic and spirited nurses as they proudly marched with picket signs and cheered at honks from supporters.

Nurses on the picket line had many things to say about the historic strike. “All the nurses are fired up and are behind the strike. We are standing up for patients' safety and the safety of all the nurses,” said Sheila, a veteran nurse who has worked at Bethesda for five years, “Nurses just don't give out medications, we do much more. We like to spend time with each patient to really listen to them and their needs. Just simply being at their bedside is priceless for them.”

A newer nurse working at Bethesda brought her family to the picket line. She said, “I love my job and being a nurse. We are striking to raise awareness regarding patient safety. Though I worry that this one-day strike may not be enough and may end up being a longer strike, however we are prepared for it”. Many nurses echoed that sentiment, say that they are ready to go all the way if this one-day strike doesn’t get the results that nurses are demanding.

Another nurse working at Bethesda for eight years stated the strike is needed to send a strong message to the bosses that patient care has to come before profits. He explained, “Staffing has been an ongoing problem in the hospitals for many years. The nurses want the issue of staffing to be a part of their contract but management doesn't want to include it.”

At Fairview Riverside Hospital, a large hospital in Minneapolis, nurses reported that 400-500 were picketing at mid-day. A group of surgical nurses related how they reported for the start of their shift at 5:30 a.m. and walked out of the hospital at 7:00 a.m. to a large chanting crowd of fired-up nurses on the picket line.

Margaret Adedji, a staff nurse from Fairview Riverside, spoke about why she was striking. “The pensions are a big thing. If the hospitals and CEOs are making so much money, they can give it back to the workers. It’s not about the money…they are taking advantage of us. Once the pension money is taken it won’t be put back. They are taking advantage of this economic crisis to set a precedent for the future of nurses.”

One striker at Fairview held a sign that read: “Fairview profit 2009= $155,030,000.” It further detailed that the CEO of Fairview, Mark Eustis, makes $1.01 million per year, which equals $486.54 per hour.

Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, another Minneapolis hospital, had a sea of red as close to a thousand covered the sidewalks and streets encircling the complex. Allina, the corporate health ‘system’ for Abbott Northwestern paid its CEO, Ken Paulus, a shocking $1.74 million in 2009. At rush hour, honks filled the air as supporters passed on the busy street bordering the hospital.

At Fairview Southdale, a large suburban hospital, over 400 were already on the picket lines by 7:00 a.m. and at 10:00 p.m. over 200 nurses were prepared to picket throughout the night. “We are not going to give up until we get our demands met for safe patient care and to keep our benefits we’ve earned over all these years,” stated Margaret Sarfehjooy, who has been a nurse at Fairview Southdale for 23 years. “The hospitals should be more concerned about patient care than CEO salaries.”

The Minnesota Nurses Association is carrying out the strike at 14 area hospitals. It is the single largest nursing strike in the history of the United States. The excitement of history in the making was palpable in the voices, chants, songs and faces of the determined nurses on picket lines throughout the day. “We are the union. The mighty, mighty union. We are fighting for patient safety. For nurse’s safety. For better healthcare. Against the greedy bosses. The greedy, greedy bosses. Against the greedy management. Shame on them.”

Striker holding a picket sign

Striking nurses.

Midnight strikers on the picket line.

#StPaulMN #MinnesotaNursingAssociationMNA