Saturday, October 1 2022
Nurses from Children's Minnesota and United Hospital in St. Paul are among nearly 15,000 nurses from 16 hospitals who walked off the job this week.

Nurses at Children’s Minnesota and United Hospital in St. Paul are among some 15,000 nurses from 16 hospitals who left work this week.
Photo: John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press (Getty Images)

This is the fourth time Kelley Anaas, an intensive care nurse, has gone on strike. She worked at the same hospital for 14 years but now, “this job has to get better or I have to go,” Anaas told Jezebel from the picket line. “As hard as it is and how defeated I feel at the end of every shift…I can’t do this for the rest of my career.”

Anaas is one of 15,000 nurses in Minnesota who went off duty for three days this week. It is the largest private nurses’ strike in American history. Workers want the hospital to prioritize hiring local nurses, instead of relying on agencies and traveling nurses to fill staffing shortages. They also want paid family leave and safety policies implemented, both in terms of guaranteed PPE and paid leave for assaulted staff. “I would love to do this for the rest of my career, but it was physically, mentally and emotionally damaging,” Anaas, who heads his chapter of the Nurses Association of Minnesota, said. “It’s not sustainable what we’re being asked to do.”

These nurses are part of another industry pushed to the brink by the pandemic, demanding employers and the country’s precarious economic outlook. Nationwide freight railway workers are threatens to strike on Friday on attendance policies that promote unsafe working conditions. Tuesday, Seattle teachers voted to suspend their strike for five days, pending successful ratification of the contract. In Michigan, professor at a university stopped work for five days, ending Sunday, and nurses in a hospital system (without a union contract since July) authorized a walkout two weeks ago. Nurses in Wisconsin only did not hit this week because the governor managed to broker a last-minute deal. Almost 700 nursing home workers in Pennsylvania were on strike for seven days after Labor Day. Not to mention the United Mine Workers of America who participated in 16 month strike in Alabama.

It’s been a long year of organized work speak out on working conditions and demand more.

For nurses in Minnesota, the decision to strike was highly calculated. Limiting its roughly 15,000 members to just three days away from the bedside allowed nurses to flex their muscles without straying too far from patient care. And a lot of the pre-work was grooming nurses who had never experienced a strike, let alone a strike of this magnitude. “About half” of Anaas’ nursing colleagues have been hired since negotiating their last contract in 2019, she said.

The biggest nursing strike in history is just one more moment in a long career for this 37-year-old nurse. “I have been out since 6:30 a.m. with my colleagues. … As a health system, we went on strike six years ago for six weeks – nurses who have been through this before are ready,” she said. “I am well versed in this area.”

As nurses return to bedside on Thursday, the fight is far from over. “I always thought that if you took care of your nurses, you didn’t have to worry about your patients,” Anass said. “That’s what I learned during my first strike in 2010. Nurses who are treated well treat patients better.

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