Nurses Picket Outside Duluth Hospitals

Minnesota Nurses Association asking for what they call "safe" staffing levels at Essentia Health and St. Luke's

DULUTH, Minn. – Nurses picketed outside Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital in Downtown Duluth.

This as negotiations continue between the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) and the two major area hospitals.

The nurses picketed to build public awareness for their cause and encourage the hospitals to provide what they call “safe” staffing levels.

“By being out here we’re really putting pressure on the hospital to take our concerns about patient safety seriously,” said Chris Rubesch, an R.N. and a member of the MNA bargaining team at Essentia.

The East Third Street Sidewalk in front of Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center was packed with nurses and supporters Tuesday.

“It’s easy for them to focus on other issues and we want to bring the focus back to the most important thing, which is patient care,” said Rubesch.

It was the same thing on East First Street in front of St. Luke’s.

“Nothing’s changed,” said R.N. Pete Boyechko, co-chair of the MNA St. Luke’s bargaining unit. “We were out here nine years ago picketing for safe staffing and here we are nine years later doing the same thing.”

They want resources put toward recruiting and retaining nurses and for each shift to be staffed with what they call the proper number of nurses, particularly in emergency departments.

“Becoming a level one trauma center is great for our community and the surrounding area but we need to make sure we’re staffing to care for those really critical patients,” said Rubesch.

They say they can’t provide the care they’re capable of without more nurses working.

“You pick a shift, you pick a unit, without a doubt there’s going to be a nurse that stayed late, came in early, or is here on their day off,” said Boyechko. “These are folks who are working above their contracted work agreement. They’re coming in to support their patients, they’re coming in to support their co-workers.”

The nurses have been working without a contract at either hospital since June 30th.

They’re not striking, at least not yet, as negotiations continue.

“When you do this day after day, month after month, year after year, and you keep hearing from administration ‘we’re working on it’ or ‘we’re doing the best that we can,'” said Boyechko.

Essentia Health released this statement to Fox 21 about the informational picket:

“We value the contributions of our skilled and compassionate nurses and respect their right to conduct informational picketing as part of the contract negotiation process. It’s important to note that our nurses are not on strike and our hospitals will be open as usual, providing quality care to our patients and their families. We have measures in place to ensure that our patients, their families, hospital staff and others will have access to our facilities during the picketing.”

St. Luke’s management sent Fox 21 this statement from Sue Hamel, RN, St. Luke’s Vice President/Chief Nursing Officer:

“We have tremendous nurses who do an incredible job caring for patients at St. Luke’s. We respect their right to hold an informational picket today and appreciate that all staff members are reporting for scheduled shifts.

“We have been making solid progress at the negotiations table and look forward to continuing our discussions in the near future. We are working hard to arrive at a fair contract that recognizes nurses for their role while also keeping in mind what is in the best interests of all employees and striving to maintain affordable health care.”

Contract negotiations are expected to continue at Essentia Health on Wednesday. At St. Luke’s, they’re expected to pick up again in early September.

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