Allina nurses' strike ends; union agrees to give up sweet health plan

In the past, nurses had forsaken raises to keep their health plan. This year, Allina insisted on taking it away.

In the past, nurses had forsaken raises to keep their health plan. This year, Allina insisted on taking it away. Minnesota Nurses Association

Since contract negotiations between Allina Health and its nurses broke down this summer, about 5,000 nurses have gone on strike. Surgeries were postponed. Protests shut down downtown streets at rush hour. Allina spent $20 million on substitute nurses flown in from out of state.

Over the course of the standoff, some 400 experienced nurses left Allina for good.

The dispute has always centered on Allina’s unshaking demand to discontinue the nurses’ high quality, union-fought health plans, and transition them to the same plans offered to other hospital employees. From the beginning, Allina estimated that switching nurses to the company plan would save $10 million

The nurses were determined to hold on to their union plans because they come with low deductibles, low out-of-pocket maximums, and zero copay for many services. In previous contract negotiations, they sacrificed wage increases in order to hold on to these health plans.

Thirty-eight days after the nurses took to the streets, the strike is officially over as of Tuesday. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service had to step in, and a tentative deal was finally brokered after a 17-hour negotiating session at Gov. Mark Dayton’s residence.

The terms of the deal show that the nurses’ bargaining team have agreed to slowly let go of their union health plans. By 2019, all nurses would transfer to Allina’s company plans. In return, Allina agreed to make some extra contributions to the nurses’ health savings accounts and reimbursement arrangements.

Allina will also hire 24/7 security for the emergency department, and increase nurses’ wages by 6 percent over the next three years.  

"The agreement is the result of an enormous amount of work," said Rose Roach, executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association. "The nurses have shown remarkable strength and courage to earn improvements in workplace safety, nurse staffing policies, and multi-year contributions to accounts that will ease their transition from their contract health insurance plans to Allina core plans.  Nurses have cooperated with easing out of these plans and deserve to be protected through any future benefit reductions by Allina Health, which the company has provided."

Nurses will vote on the tentative deal on Thursday.