Nurse strikes are a hot topic nationwide right now. With a major nurses’ strike in Minneapolis wrapping up tomorrow, a current one happening in Los Angeles, and a planned walkout in Boston next week, what gives?

Rick Fuentes, spokesperson for the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), says he can only speak for his striking colleagues, but that nurses don’t strike without first making every effort to not have to walk the picket line.

In Minneapolis, the current walkout is based on unfair labor practices with employer Allina Health. According to a MNA press release, “Nurses are engaging in an Unfair Labor Practice Strike that began at 7 a.m. Sunday, June 19. MNA has filed numerous ULPs against Allina Health in part for failing to provide information nurses need to negotiate and for failing to bargain on non-economic issues in the contract.”

“I think the nurses are sending a clear message to the employer,” Fuentes says. The Minneapolis strike was authorized by members of the Minnesota Nurses Association who gave their negotiating representatives authorization to call a strike. Fuentes says the strike brought 2,400 nurses to the picket line on Thursday and 2,600 the day before—double the organizers’ goals. “It’s an absolute show of force,” he says, “and it shows solidarity.”

Often the byproduct of stalled, unfriendly, or otherwise broken down contract negotiations, strikes like the kind being seen around the country become a public display of grievances. But they often push both sides back to the negotiating table, and Fuentes says this strike is no different. He hopes the extreme action of the strike will force the negotiations to resume.

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In Massachusetts, a planned one-day walkout of more than 3,000 nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is being met with a four-day lockout of the nurses if they strike. The event, based in part on what the nurses say are unsafe staffing levels and unfair wage and insurance practices, would be the first in 30 years in the state.

And yesterday, nurses in Los Angeles’ Kaiser Permanente LA Medical Center began the first of a four-day strike based on what the nurses say are unsafe staffing levels, an allegation that Kaiser disputes.

And while there’s no doubt these strikes disrupt what’s going on inside the hospital and with the patients, nurses say it’s the bigger picture of patient safety they have their sights on.

As the nurses have banded together in Minneapolis, Fuentes says he has noticed a pattern. “The great thing is I have seen a high number of both experienced nurses and newer nurses,” says Fuentes. “For the experienced nurses, they feel they have to protect all the nurses.”

Fuentes says nurses don’t take the strike lightly. “Nurses are selfless and they are not just thinking about themselves,” he says. “They are thinking about their patients. They are thinking about nurses they don’t even know. That’s why they are out here.”

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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