This is the fourth time Kelley Anaas, an ICU nurse, has gone on strike. She’s worked at the same hospital for 14 years but now, “this job has to get better or I have to leave,” Anaas told Jezebel from the picket line. “As hard as it is and how defeated I feel at the end of every shift…I can’t do it for the rest of my career.”
Anaas is one of 15,000 nurses in Minnesota who walked off the job for three days this week. It’s the largest strike of private nurses in American history. The workers want the hospital to prioritize hiring local nurses, instead of relaying on agencies and travel nurses to fill staffing shortages. They also want paid family leave and safety policies implemented, both regarding guaranteed PPE as well as paid leave for assaulted staff members. “I would love to do this for the rest of my career, but it’s been physically, mentally and emotionally damaging,” Anaas, who’s head of her chapter of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said. “It’s not sustainable what we’re being asked to do.”
These nurses are part of yet another industry pushed to the brink by the pandemic, demanding employers, and the country’s tenuous economic outlook. Freight railroad workers nationwide are threatening to strike on Friday over attendance policies that promote unsafe working conditions. On Tuesday, Seattle teachers voted to suspend their five-day strike, pending a successful contract ratification. In Michigan, faculty at one university walked off the job for five days, ending on Sunday, and one hospital system’s nurses (who have been without a union contract since July) authorized a walkout two weeks ago. Nurses in Wisconsin only didn’t strike this week because the governor was able to broker a last-minute deal. Nearly 700 nursing home workers in Pennsylvania were on strike for seven days following Labor Day. Not to mention the United Mine Workers of America who have been on strike for 16 months in Alabama.
It’s been a long year of organized labor speaking out about working conditions and demanding more.
For the Minnesota nurses, the strike decision was highly calculated. Limiting its roughly 15,000 members to only three days away from the bedside allowed the nurses to flex their muscles without taking too much away from patient care. And much of the work beforehand involved preparing nurses who had never experienced a strike, let alone one of this magnitude. “About half” of Anaas’s nursing colleagues have been hired since their last contract was negotiated in 2019, she said.
The largest nursing strike in history is just another moment in a long career for this 37-year-old nurse. “I’ve been out since 6:30 a.m. with my coworkers. ...We as a health system went on strike six years ago for six weeks—nurses who went through this before are ready,” she said. “I’m well versed in this.”
While the nurses will return to bedsides on Thursday, the fight is far from done. “I’ve just always thought if you take care of your nurses, you don’t have to worry about your patients,” Anass said. “That’s what I learned in my first strike in 2010. Nurses who are treated well treat patients the best.”