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Why thousands of nurses are protesting in Minnesota

About 15,000 nurses in Minnesota walked off the job this week to protest understaffing and overwork, an action the union says is the largest strike ever of private-sector nurses.

The nurses are pressing for a 30 percent wage increase over three years, which they say will improve patient care by reducing burnout.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Erica Atwood, an operating room nurse at United Hospital in St. Paul, said she is exhausted.

“You just want to break down,” she said on the picket line Tuesday. “Management says, our hands are tied, and they can’t do anything about it,” she said.

“But nurses are quitting.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

The three-day strike has cast light on nationwide nursing shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s why some of the nurses say they are protesting:

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Melisa Koll.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Melisa Koll, 57

Case management

“All they’ve been talking about in the media is where we’re at with wages and our proposal is way too high,” Koll said. “We realize it’s high. But we will not come down until they will listen to us about staffing. What we’re looking for in staffing is for the nurses who are at the bedside to have some say in what the staffing looks like for that particular unit. And they’re not willing to give up any of that control.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Kendra Sherard.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Kendra Sherard, 40

Behavioral unit nurse

“We have to make sure that we have enough nurses, we have enough security. All that stuff is in place to take care of these patients,” Sherard said. “That’s why we’re out here fighting.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annie Vestrum.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annie Vestrum, 43

Mother-baby center nurse

“When there’s an emergency, we need to have enough staff where people can watch each other’s patients, and that an emergency can be taken care of,” Vestrum said. “Normally, young pregnant women are the healthiest hospital population. With covid, that isn’t necessarily the case. It can be touch-or-go minute to minute. That patient could need an emergency C-section because of how their oxygen is doing.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Allison Klinger.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Allison Klinger, 34

Neonatal ICU (NICU) nurse

“We’re trying to scramble to try and find people just to cover us,” Klinger said. Newborns “are not getting the care they deserve.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Judy Goebel.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Judy Goebel, 51

Vascular nurse

“There’s nurses that haven’t been able to stop and talk to each other and actually, you know, connect for years because all they’ve been doing is just working under these horrible conditions,” Goebel said. “They don’t even have a chance to take a breath. Being out here on the line, they’ve actually had a chance to connect. People have finally had a chance to talk to each other and show solidarity.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Amanda Frykman.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Amanda Frykman, 33

Labor and delivery nurse

“You can work from home making more than you can in the hospital as a nurse,” Frykman said. “The violence against nurses has increased as well. But the security has not gotten better. So we need to make working in the hospital appealing again to the nurses.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Muna Mussa.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Muna Mussa, 34

Cardiac step-down nurse

“It does not feel good to not care for patients the way we want to care for them,” Mussa said. “We are doing the work, and what we want is to be able to do it to the best of our abilities with the support that they say they will provide.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Erica Atwood, 44, left, with Cornelius Beverly, 49, a supporter.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Erica Atwood, 44

Operating room nurse

Even in the ER, we’re understaffed,” Atwood said. “It’s challenging when cases get delayed. Patients are there later in the night, we’re there later in the night. They are asking for volunteers.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Brenda Stewart.

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

Brenda Stewart, 65

Cardiac IMC nurse

“In the past, we’ve given in,” said Stewart, who was part of the nursing strike in 2010. “We’ve been here through thick and thin of covid. And I think the moral injury is really what describes our hearts.”

Annabelle Marcovici for The Washington Post

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Credits

Photo editing by Haley Hamblin. Editing and Production by Karly Domb Sadof.