ST. PAUL-Talks between Allina Health and the Minnesota Nurses Association resumed Tuesday morning at the behest of a federal mediator. They were continuing as of late Tuesday afternoon, and union and Allina spokespeople declined to provide details until the session ended.
Contract negotiations, which began in February, ended early this month after a 22-hour bargaining session. On Labor Day, thousands of union members went on strike at United Hospital in St. Paul, Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis, Unity in Fridley, Mercy in Coon Rapids and the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis.
A mediator assigned by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service called union and Allina reps back to the table Friday.
The FMCS serves as a neutral third party in collective bargaining if invited by the parties involved. The agency offers services that range from mediation to training, public affairs director John Arnold said.
"Each negotiation is different, and there is no 'one size fits all' formula," Arnold said. "Mediators will do what's requested of them and what they feel is in the best interest of the parties."
Arnold declined to say why the mediator called parties back for negotiations or whether the move was uncommon.
Meanwhile, Allina brought in some 1,500 replacement nurses to cover hospital shifts; it says more than 500 staff nurses have returned to work.
Nurses' health insurance has been a major sticking point since negotiations began. The contract ended in May, and the nurses staged a one-week strike in June. Among other changes in the new contract, Allina wants the nurses to give up their union-only health plan and join a corporate plan that covers virtually all other Allina employees. The nurses union did not want to do this.
After the last marathon bargaining session ended early this month, both sides said they felt they were close to an agreement on the issue. Although the union agreed to phase out nurses-only health plans by 2020, the two sides disagree about how that should be done.
According to their most recent proposals, Allina wants a 3 percent cap on its share of the premium increases of nurses-only plans, while the MNA wants Allina to take on any cost increases until the plans are phased out. Allina also wants to exclude newly hired nurses from union-only plans beginning Jan. 1, 2017, while the MNA wants all nurses to have access to the same plans.
Although premiums are cheaper on the corporate plan, the union's problems stem from higher deductibles, greater out-of-pocket expenses, fewer provider choices and other issues, the union says.
In an Allina comparison, the most popular union plan, Choice, lists single-coverage premiums at $1,870.18 a year, with the company paying $10,597.86. On the most popular nonunion plan, the First Plan, single premiums would be $1,108.90, with the company paying $6,283.16.
According to a union spreadsheet, the total out-of-pocket maximum under the MNA Choice plan is $3,000 a year. Allina's First plan has a $3,500 to $7,000 in-network maximum, plus $1,000 in-network and $2,000 out-network pharmacy maximums.
Allina says union nurses are paid between $31.27 and $48.15 an hour, with an average full-time salary of $87,298 a year before bonuses or overtime. Only 8 percent of Allina nurses work 40 hours a week but are eligible for full benefits at 16 hours a week.
The MNA wants to make sure the company doesn't cut into the plans' monetary value and wants to determine the value jointly with actuaries selected by both the union and the company. Allina was willing to promise negotiations only on the value of its most popular plan, the First plan, and wants its own actuary to determine this.
Staffing remains an issue, as well, with the union asking for charge nurses to be completely free of patient assignments by the end of the contract period. Allina wants the charge nurses to have the option of taking patients, depending on their unit's staffing plan.
Allina and the MNA's most recent proposals both provide hospital emergency rooms with round-the-clock dedicated security personnel and include annual workplace safety training. Both agreements also include 2 percent wage increases effective June 1 of each year of the new contract.
Although they found common ground on these issues in the previous negotiating session, the two sides aren't legally bound to leave those agreements untouched. Despite this, spokespeople for both the union and Allina said they hoped those understandings would be remain.
The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.