MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As of Sunday, around 41 percent of the nurses in the Twin Cities metro are on strike.

Nurses from five Allina Health hospitals began picketing early Sunday morning. This was the scene at Abbott Northwesten. Nurses are also striking at Mercy in Coon Rapids, the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, United in St. Paul and Unity in Fridley.

The main reason the nurses are going on strike is over their health insurance plan. Allina Health wants the nurses to be part of a corporate plan.

The nurses say that will be mean higher deductibles and higher out of pocket expenses for them. Allina says many nurses will pay less out of pocket because the premiums are lower.

Picketers will be camped outside their hospitals for the week. It started Sunday morning with about 600 nurses. They tell us they’ve got pace themselves for the next seven days.  The two sides are standing off, both say this is an unfortunate occasion.

Instead of working in the hospital, one nurse kept his hands busy by playing the bagpipes. It’s a somber situation for critical care nurse Katie Wahl, who was supposed to work the night shift.

“That’s my home up there. Simply stated it is breaking my heart,” Wahl, who works at Abbott Northwestern, said.

For the patients and their families inside the hospital:

“I want them to know that I would rather be there than here right now. I take care of my patients the same way I take care of my family — with my whole heart,” Wahl said.

And that’s what these caregivers say they are doing: Walking for the care of themselves and their own families.

“My biggest fear is that people won’t get the care they need because they can’t afford it,” said nurse Kevin Peterson, who works in Mental Health Services at Abbott Northwestern.

But the CEO of the state’s largest employer of nurses says amongst picketers, there’s a lot of misunderstanding, saying the new plans are fair and this was avoidable.

“I think we are quite honestly here because we can’t have a willing partner to engage in what could be, I think, could be a transition to a better plan over time for our nursing staff,” Dr. Penny Wheeler said.

One thing both sides agree on: That having replacement workers filling their jobs today is not ideal.

“When we left we weren’t even sure that there was staff there to watch them. But we walked out the door as security was there and we did the best that we could and we just all kind of walk out and pray for the best,” said Vinetta Gladney, a registered nurse in the critical care intensive care unit. “We would always prefer to have our own nurses who we’ve had trusted relationships with for years at the bedside.”

But for now, this is reality.  Until two sides who work to take care of others take care of the situation.

Hospitals are still up and running, but some elective surgeries have been canceled. Not everyone went along with the plan. We’re told 144 nurses crossed the picket line and stayed put.  This is planned to last a full week, but both sides say they want to work it out. It’s not clear if that will happen.

The last major Twin Cities nurses strike was in 2010, when 12,000 nurses walked out at 14 metropolitan-area hospitals for a day. Nurses at the other Twin Cities hospital systems reached contract agreements months ago.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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