An imminent one-week strike by nurses, lab techs and other caregivers at HealthPartners clinics in the Twin Cities has been averted with a tentative contract agreement reached early Tuesday, the labor union announced.
The contract for nearly 1,800 nurses and other HealthPartners clinic workers expired Jan. 31. After a Feb. 6 vote in which 95% of workers backed a strike, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota called for the seven-day strike to begin Wednesday.
The job action would have involved more than 30 HealthPartners medical and dental clinics, primarily in the east metro, but not any Park Nicollet clinics the organization acquired through a merger in 2013.
The union said full details of the tentative deal, which was reached at 3 a.m. Tuesday after 17 hours of bargaining, will be shared with its membership before being fully disclosed and put to a vote next week. Terms include:
• Wage increases of 7.5% over the three years.
• Protecting union members' health plan benefits.
• Overtime pay provisions protected from reductions and changes.
"After months of negotiations, and an overwhelming strike vote, we were able to land on a strong tentative agreement for a new contract that maintains excellent health care benefits," said Nancy Wickoren, a 31-year licensed practical nurse at HealthPartners and member of the union's bargaining team, in a statement.
"As in any negotiation," she said, "we didn't get everything we wanted. But we are very proud of how our membership stood up together and fought back huge cuts and cost shifts to health care and overtime pay that management had insisted on for months."
HealthPartners spokesman David Martinson issued a statement acknowledging the agreement but otherwise offered no details about the terms or how the deal came about.
"As we've done throughout this entire process, we keep contract negotiation details at the bargaining table," he said.
Kate Lynch, a licensed practical nurse at the HealthPartners Clinic in Arden Hills, said she and fellow members of the union bargaining team saved all but one aspect of the members' health coverage under the far more popular of two plans. Emergency room copays for the rank and file will rise from $40 to $65.
The increase "is not a small amount but small enough to maintain the rest of the plan," she said.
The deal was sweetened by management negotiators during the final round of talks, Lynch said, when "they came up on wages and dropped an overtime concession."
There should be little financial impact on the system from the agreement with this segment of its workforce, said a former health care executive who now teaches at the University of St. Thomas.
"My sense is that this set of employees is not a huge amount of their overall workforce," said David McLaughlin, director of the Center for Innovation in Business of Health Care at St. Thomas' Opus College of Business and a former CEO at HCMC. HealthPartners employs more than 26,000 people systemwide.
While not knowing terms of the agreement beyond what the union disclosed, McLaughlin anticipates "marginal changes" in benefits, and he characterized the pay bump as "not even very large."
If the strike had started Wednesday, it would have come at a peak time of business — at the crest of the flu season and when renewed 2020 benefits have many people scheduling clinical and dental services. A HealthPartners spokesman said last week a plan was in place to maintain health services.
HealthPartners still has a potential strike looming by contracted cleaning staff and security personnel represented by SEIU Local 26. The job action was approved in a membership vote over the weekend. The length of the strike and when it would start are pending.
HealthPartners is growing and reported $7 billion in revenue last year, but the health system, like others in the Twin Cities, has made cuts in response to looming financial pressures. The system recently announced it was closing a home-care service and 30 retail pharmacies.