Any way you cut it, it's a good time to be in health care and nursing.  While it's true that the stressors of the pandemic have taken their toll physically, mentally, and emotionally on staff and providers, the current marketplace has created opportunities for both entities.  Many providers have embarked on large-scale expansion projects while the so-called "rank and file" staffers have seen new opportunities open in regards to pay - especially with "travel nursing".

The situation has also opened a rift between one local healthcare provider and their staff - at least when it comes to potential future representation.

A variety of nurses are bringing their concerns about representation at upcoming new healthcare facilities to the general public.  Those nursing workforce is "concern(ed with)...the rights of nurses at Essentia Health facilities, especially the Essentia Health Surgery Center-Miller Mall, which is anticipated top open in July".

Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, MN
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

At the core of the debate is whether or not nursing union representation will be welcome at the new facility.

According to details in an article in the Superior Telegram [paywall], Essentia has made it known that their intent is for the new surgery center in Duluth in the mall area - as well as an upcoming clinic to be opened in Cloquet - to be union shops. That article quotes Chris Rubesch, a registered nurse and the First Vice President of the Minnesota Nurses Association, sharing that "Essentia....told (the) Minnesota Nurses Association it does not intend" for those sites to be "union facilities".  And - when pressed on the issue - essentially asking them to at least remain "publicly neutral" about the union issue - which would "allow...a free and fair election amongst the members", Essentia said "that's not something that they want to discuss at this time".

Doctors and nurses coordinate hands. Concept Teamwork

The Minnesota Nurses Association and its members from around the region gathered together to hold a public rally, which occurred at the Duluth Labor Temple on March 30.

In addition, the Minnesota Nurses Association sent correspondence to Essentia Health Chief Executive Officer David Herman.  That emailed letter requested:

"...a meeting to negotiate an agreement, and detailed the terms they would include in the agreement.  Terms include a commitment to respect nurses' rights, an election process, and communication to nurses about the process of their option to join a union without coercion, intimidation, promises of threats during the decision making process."

To the nurses point, Essentia's movement in regards to union issues at their new, upcoming facilities doesn't correspond with their current practices:

"The Duluth hospitals Essentia Health-St. Mary's and St. Luke's are both unionized, and the new St. Mary's hospital in Essentia's Vision Northland construction project has an agreement to stay unionized when staff move to the new facility."

Additionally, Essentia has utilized union construction workers and skilled labor as part of the construction process.

Team of medical professionals

That Superior Telegram article provides the contents of an email from Essential when asked to respond to "questions about the health care system's stance" on unions. That response from Essentia reads:

"Essentia Health is one of the largest employers of union represented workers in the region.  We are proud of our long time working relationships with unions where our employees have voted for union representation.  Under federal law, a decision regarding union representation would be something for employees to decide and we would respect that choice.  We remain committed to full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations."

However, that statement flies in the face of the charges that some Northland nurses are suggesting.  At the rally held at the Duluth Labor Temple, Tristin Eastvold - a registered nurse from Moose Lake - offered "Essentia is anti-union.  Anything new that they build, they want non-union.  Anything that they buy, they bust up the contract."

two nurses using laptop computer during break

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