HealthEast is dragging out negotiations on a first contract for nurses in its Home Care division, according to the Minnesota Nurses Association, which is seeking the public’s help in pressuring HealthEast to bargain in good faith.
The MNA, which represents about 65 nurses at HealthEast Home Care, is asking supporters to call or e-mail HealthEast CEO Kathryn Correia (651-232-2300, email@example.com) or Director of Labor Relations Mark Sorenson (651-232-5060, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The message, MNA representative Julia Stewart said, is simple: “Quit stalling and give these nurses a contract that’s fair.”
HealthEast Home Care nurses voted to form a union with MNA in April 2010. A year ago they reaffirmed that choice, voting down an attempt to decertify their union.
Despite nurses’ commitment to collective bargaining, HealthEast management has “steadfastly refused even the most typical and basic contract provisions,” Stewart said. That includes language requiring just cause for firing a nurse, and a grievance procedure ending with neutral arbitration.
In an attempt to jump-start negotiations, nurses recently offered to compromise on “several issues fundamental to their day-to-day work life,” like scheduling and workload, Stewart said. Management rejected the offer.
The two sides are meeting with a federal mediator.
By dragging out negotiations on a first contract, HealthEast is taking a page straight out of the playbook for union avoidance – and demonstrating the need for tougher labor laws. A 2009 study by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner found 52 percent of U.S. workers who succeeded at forming a union remained without a contract one year after their organizing election. Thirty-seven percent still lacked a contract two years after the election.
Employers face no penalty for failing to negotiate a first contract with newly organized workers. Many drag their feet as a result, hoping the longer workers wait to see results from their new union, the more likely they are to support a decertification vote – like the one MNA members fought off at HealthEast Home Care a year ago.
Management’s lethargic approach to negotiations with the new unit of home-care nurses stands in telling contrast to the HealthEast’s most recent round of negotiations with nurses at its Twin Cities hospitals, like St. Joseph’s, St. John’s and Bethesda.
Bargaining alongside other area hospital systems, HealthEast reached a three-year contract with MNA members – and did so about six months ahead of schedule. Hospital executives, Stewart said, emphasized during the negotiations that they wanted to achieve labor peace.
“This doesn’t feel like labor peace to me,” she said.