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Minnesota union nurses hold huge socially-distanced picket and march for safety

By staff |
May 21, 2020
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Members of Coalition to Advance a People’s Agenda (CAPA) marching with nurses.
Members of Coalition to Advance a People’s Agenda (CAPA) marching with nurses. (Photo by Kim DeFranco)

Saint Paul, MN - On Wednesday May 20, several hundred members of Minnesota Nurses Association, along with members of other unions and supporters, picketed in front of Allina’s United Hospital to demand PPE and the reinstatement of two nurses who have been fired so far for trying to work safely. The picket spread out on both sides of the street for three blocks or more, with participants standing in chalk circles on the sidewalk six feet apart and wearing masks.

After picketing for nearly two hours, the nurses and supporters marched from United Hospital to the Minnesota State Capitol where a rally was held for the following hour. The marchers used long ropes with marks every six feet so that people could hold onto their mark and stay safely six feet apart. The march stretched on for many blocks between the hospital and capitol.

Many nurses spoke movingly about the conditions healthcare workers are facing in hospitals during the pandemic and how the situation is worsened by Allina and other health systems’ failure to provide PPE and proper training and procedures to keep nurses safe. Many spoke of reusing and sharing N95 masks for many days or even weeks at a time. There were also many references to nurses being yelled at, warned, disciplined, and even fired for demanding to work safely and for following guidelines and implementing ways to stay safe while taking care of sick patients.

When asked about how things are going inside the hospital, one nurse who works at United stated that “Things are stressful and could be better.” She went on to say that they need more PPE since they are reusing protective gear during their shifts. They can’t understand why the administration is now making the guidelines of the use of PPE less restrictive. Before the pandemic, they weren’t allowed to wear the same mask from room to room but now they can. The administration also fired a worker for wearing hospital- issued scrubs even though they were previously allowed to wear them in some situations.

A union postal worker at the picket stated, “It is really important to be here because as postal workers we are going through the same things as the nurses, like lack of protection as essential workers. Postal workers stand in solidarity with the nurses because there is strength in numbers.”

Another group that had a large number of supporters joining the picket and march was the Coalition to Advance a People’s Agenda (CAPA), which is a coalition of labor union locals and organizations fighting to put the needs of the working class front and center in the response to the COVID 19 health crisis and the economic downturn.

On the coalitions’ Facebook page they state “working and oppressed people are facing the biggest crisis we’ve experienced in generations.” They go on to say “We cannot survive like this! Our basic needs, including our health, must come before the profits of big corporations. To get out of this crisis now and to make real lasting progress for our futures, we put forward these demands that put people before profits.”

The nurses appeared intent and prepared to continue the fight for PPE for nurses and other healthcare workers and to demand an end to retaliation against nurses who try to work safely.