UPDATE: Health care workers reach agreement with Twin Cities hospitals

Ninety-one percent of SEIU members voted to authorize a strike at Twin Cities hospitals. (SEIU Minnesota photo)

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, the union representing 3,500 health care workers at eight Twin Cities hospitals, announced today it has reached a tentative agreement with management, averting a strike authorized by members earlier this week.

The union said it would withhold details of the proposed contract until union members had reviewed and voted on it. Voting is scheduled for next week.

Tee McClenty, SEIU’s chief negotiator in contract talks with the hospitals, issued the following statement:

While we did not achieve all that our members deserve for the work we do every day to improve our patient’s lives, by standing together we fought back the most outrageous cuts that would have driven the lowest-paid workers in our hospitals into poverty. We will keep organizing and fighting the corporations that want to run our non-profit hospitals like for-profit institutions.

The union resumed negotiations with the eight hospitals Wednesday, armed with the support of an overwhelming majority of its members, who voted May 14 and 15 to authorize their leadership to call a two- to five-day strike if talks did not progress.

Hospitals involved in the negotiations include Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, Fairview Riverside Hospital in Minneapolis, Children’s Hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Health East’s Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul and St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood, North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, and Park Nicollet/Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.

Workers in negotiations include nursing assistants, emergency room technicians, maintenance and food service personnel, clerks, warehouse staff and others.

Negotiations between the two sides  broken down, the union said, as a result of the hospitals’ demands for changes in the workday, overtime provisions, vacation and sick-leave. The hospitals also sought large increases in the contribution employees make toward their health insurance coverage. The proposed changes, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota said, would have pushed many of the lowest-paid workers at Twin Cities hospitals – and their families – into poverty.

The hospitals’ insistence on squeezing givebacks out of its lowest-paid employees  angered many workers – as indicated by the strike vote, which drew support from 91 percent of voting members.

“Three years ago when the hospitals were struggling, we agreed to wage freezes so we could all focus on providing the best care possible for our patients,” said Joscelyn Barnes, a bargaining team member and Nursing Assistant at Fairview Southdale Hospital.

“Yet now, when the hospital and CEOs are earning record-breaking profits, the hospital workers that spend each day and night caring for patients are being asked to survive on even less.”

The current hospital contracts expired Feb. 29 and have been extended three times while negotiations continued.

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