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Looming MN Health Care Worker Strike Reflects System Challenges

A looming strike for health care workers in the Twin Cities is seen as a sign of labor strife within the industry. (Adobe Stock)
A looming strike for health care workers in the Twin Cities is seen as a sign of labor strife within the industry. (Adobe Stock)
February 10, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota is starting to see some of the ripple effects of cost issues within the health care industry, and according to one local expert, a pending worker strike is a key example.

Last week, 1,800 nurses, physicians' assistants and other caregivers who work for Twin Cities-based HealthPartners authorized a strike. Their union says workers will walk off the job Feb. 19 if contract talks don't improve. Higher health insurance premiums are among the issues to be resolved.

Health care economist Dan McLaughlin, an adjunct professor at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas, says in an era of mergers and cost-reduction efforts, workers are feeling the squeeze.

"All that stuff is starting to percolate inside the systems, and so as a result, people's jobs that have been pretty stable for many, many years are changing and so, that causes labor strife," he explains.

McLaughlin says when the merger wave began about a decade ago, many systems started to see relief in terms of operating costs.

But the American health care system is still very expensive to operate and maintaining that cost relief has been a challenge.

Officials with HealthPartners call their offer a "fair and reasonable proposal, especially given the financial headwinds facing the health care industry."

McLaughlin sees the Mayo Clinic's decision to close a hospital in southern Minnesota as another example of the challenges being felt in this region.

He adds that it isn't surprising even for health care systems to struggle to meet rising health insurance costs.

"I don't think the health care delivery system is exempt from the pressures of health insurance and so, it's happening to everybody," he states.

The workers in the HealthPartners dispute say they're also concerned about a proposal to reduce overtime.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN