A historic nurses strike in Minnesota came to an end Wednesday with no contract agreement as they return to work.
Around 15,000 private sector nurses from 16 hospitals across the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth metro areas walked off the job on Monday for a three-day strike after months of failed contract negotiations. The strike is believed to be the largest private-sector nurses’ strike in U.S. history, according to the Minnesota Nurses Association.
Sahan Journal spoke with some nurses who were on the picket line Wednesday. Here’s what they had to say about their fight for increased staffing, higher wages, and better patient care.
Kimani is a nurse at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has worked as a nurse for 10 years.
“I’m on strike to get the employer to give us better working conditions for patients and also better pay for the hard work we do. Better working conditions benefit the community because anybody out here can end up in a hospital. We’re the ones who see what is going on in the community through the hospital. We need it to be a safer place for everyone.
“The last couple of days we’ve seen the community behind us, the nurses are together, and we won’t stop until they do what is right.”
Vang has worked as a nurse for almost two years at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“As a woman of color working in the healthcare industry and with its greed, there is already this tone that we’re disposable. So as a woman of color, if you’re feeling like there’s unfair treatment from a patient, they are not culturally competent, straight out racist, or assuming something about you.
“I’m extroverted so I can speak out. But there really is no process of what to do if this happens and say a certain practice is not okay.”
Littlefield has worked as a nurse for nine years. She currently works in Allina Health system in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“It’s been very powerful being out here. Being newer to the Allina Hospital in the last few months, I see the struggles that nurses have gone through. You can have a higher acuity patient, and you’re struggling to focus on that patient on top of four or others you might have. I’m sure it’s also tearing and wearing on those in the night shift.
“I think it’s very important to wake up hospital members to what we’re going through and how tired we are. But we also feel the patient’s pain because we’re there for them.”
Apungu picketed Wednesday in support of her mother, Lonah Apungu, who has been a nurse for 18 years. Lonah works at Fairview Riverside Hospital in Minneapolis.
“I feel like I have to support my mom after the work I saw her doing during the pandemic, doing what she needed to do,” said Sherie Apungu. “I heard the stories. I saw her friends as nurses during the pandemic. And to hear they’re striking for things that they were actually asking for in 2010–I think nurses are underrated.
“They are sort of like the underdog on the healthcare team. With them picketing, it’s not about being a nurse to get paid more money. It’s about, ‘We know what patients need, and I can give them the best care, but I can’t do it if I don’t have more staff in my unit.’ If, ‘I have to get another job to support my family or have to work all these hours because I’m not getting paid.’”
Pacquingan has been a nurse for 15 years, and works at Fairview Riverside Hospital in Minneapolis. She is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines.
“Today, we’re here to fight for patient safety and also our rights as nurses.”
Balicao has been a nurse for 21 years and works at Fairview Riverside Hospital in Minneapolis. She is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines.
“Nurses are always short staffed, and we’re doing the work of two nurses but we’re getting paid the same amount of money and we’re overworked. I don’t want people to think this is just about salary or we’re asking for too much. I don’t think anyone can say what is too much if they’re not the ones who were bedside with patients during the height of COVID when there were no guidelines and we were told to reuse N95 masks.
“It’s not all because of the salary. It’s more about what the nurses deserve and need for us to do our job the best way we can. It’s hard when you’re overworked and no one is recognizing it–not even a thank you or simple recognition.”
Samantha HoangLong contributed to this report.