Nurses Picket for New Contract at Essentia Health-Virginia

Nurses say they've been without a contract for more than a year, they're asking for safety language in contracts and 'safe staffing levels.'

VIRGINIA, Minn. – Nurses who work for Essentia Health’s hospital in Virginia aren’t on strike, but they picketed outside the healthcare facility Monday.

Nurses say they want to get a deal done now after working there without a contract for more than a year.

103 Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) nurses work at Essentia Health-Virginia. The union is asking the healthcare system for safety language in their contracts and for what they call “safe staffing levels.”

“We don’t want to be doing this. We want a contract so we can focus on taking care of our patients and our community,” said Jodi Hensley, an R.N. at Essentia Health-Virginia.

Nurses and allies marched back and forth in front of the hospital while other nurses continued to work inside.

“This is to let everybody know that a fair contract has not been offered to us and we’ve not been able to negotiate,” R.N. Jodi Pfutzenreuter explained at the picket.

Nurses say personal safety is a factor in the year-long contract negotiation process. They’re asking the hospital for body-worn safety alarms.

“We have nurses who have been assaulted on several occasions,” said Pfutzenreuter. “We have nurses who have been thrown across rooms, had their scrubs ripped off.”

They also want more nurses working ER and ICU shifts, saying it will help patients get care in their own community.

“We want to have nurses so we can take an admit and if we are one nurse short of taking an admit, that patient can be sent to Duluth for care,” explained Hensley. “We want our patients, if they can stay in our hospital, to stay in our hospital.”

Essentia Health released this statement about the nurses’ picket:

“We respect the MNA nurses’ right to conduct informational picketing as part of the contract-negotiation process. Because of their skill and compassion, they are valued members of our team at Essentia Health-Virginia, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith toward a mutually beneficial agreement. “

The nurses have been without a contract since August 1st, 2019.

Union representatives tell us they hope to avoid a strike, but say they will deal with that option if and when the time comes.

“We still, behind those walls, we have nurses caring for our patients and that’s where we want to be,” said Pfutzenreuter. “We don’t want to be walking this line.”

Another round of negotiations between the nurses and Essentia Health is scheduled for Tuesday, August 4th.

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