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Unions Threaten to Strike as Negotiations Begin Anew

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If issues, related to a new contract, are not sorted out, workers at eight Twin Cities hospitals, could resort to striking later this month and be off their jobs.

As it is mandatory for unions to give a 10 days’ notice before striking, unions, representing the workers, have voted to authorize a two-to-five day strike against hospitals operated by five health systems in the Twin Cities. However, the authorization does not necessarily mean that a strike will surely happen.

The vote in favor of striking was overwhelming and about 91 percent of the 3,500 members of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Minnesota voted in favor of the strike. Workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota include nursing assistants, emergency room technicians, maintenance workers and food service personnel.

Tee McClenty, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, said “The vote speaks for itself.”

The Union asserts that the proposed changes would push the lowest paid workers and their families into poverty.

Renewed negotiations are scheduled to begin on Wednesday and an agreement could stall the strike. In a news release, the unions said that neither the union nor its members would make any additional remarks.

Jeremiah Whitten, a spokesman for the eight hospitals, called the vote disappointing. “But we remain optimistic that we can reach a fair settlement and are looking forward to resuming the talks,” she said.

Unions said that the strike vote was intended to send a strong message home that workers were willing to adopt tough measures and that it would act as a catalyst in the next round of contract talks. Negotiations since January have not produced any long-lasting solutions and the workers contracts, set to expire on Wednesday, have been extended several times.

The union says that apart from issues of wages and benefits, which form the crux of the problems, another area that needs to be addressed is the new proposal by the hospitals that would increase workers’ out-of-pocket costs for health insurance. There are also concerns over changes in overtime, vacation, sick time and healthcare.

The hospital management has said that the contract changes would allow for more flexibility and let the hospitals be “good stewards of our limited resources.” Union officials, however, disagree, saying that the proposed changes will mean less for the workers, who had already accepted a wage freeze three years ago.

Whitten specified that the strike would not affect physicians and registered nurses. “So if a strike were to occur, people can still see their regular doctors and nurses,” she said.

If a strike occurs, the affected hospitals would be Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and St. Paul; Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul; St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood; Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina; University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview in Minneapolis; North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale; and Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.

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Unions Threaten to Strike as Negotiations Begin Anew by
Authored by: Harrison Barnes