Unity Hospital workers go union after voting under new NLRB rules

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(photo courtesy SEIU Healthcare MN)

About 350 workers at Unity Hospital in Fridley voted yesterday to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, the union announced today. The new bargaining unit includes nursing assistants, dietary aides, environmental services aides, patient care technicians and other positions.

Over 59 percent of workers voted in favor of forming a union. It was the first major election in the region conducted under new rules established by the National Labor Relations Board in April, according to SEIU.

Part of an effort to modernize and streamline union organizing elections, the NLRB’s new rules allow workers’ petitions for elections to be filed online, consolidate the post-election appeals process and require equal access to voter contact lists for management and the union.

Management has long exploited the NLRB appeals process to drag out organizing elections, hoping to kill pro-union momentum, and business groups are challenging the NLRB rule changes in court.

Barb Shoemaker, a patient care tech from Anoka, said the process was fair for both Unity Hospital and its workers, who wanted to take an up-or-down vote on whether to form their union and move on with the results.

“With the changes in the union election rules, we were able to have a vote on whether we wanted to join SEIU without overwhelming interference,” Shoemaker said. “Even with the new rules, they tried to scare people out of voting yes and even attempted to stop people from engaging in protected union activity, but I am glad that under new NLRB guidelines we didn’t have to wait weeks longer to have our vote. By voting yes to form our union, our voice will finally be heard.”

The new unit will now begin bargaining their first contract with Unity, an Allina-owned hospital. Tania Logacz, a nursing assistant from Coon Rapids, said better patient care is at the top of Unity workers’ list of priorities.

“Care giving is getting tougher, but management only considers the total number of patients when setting staffing ratios, not the acuity of care needed,” Logacz said. “This has led to many more employee injuries and staff are being burnt out.

“By voting to form a union, we showed that we the employees do count and we’re going to look out for patients’ safety and our own safety.”

The election victory was a decade in the making for several pro-union workers, including Kathy Sodman, a health unit coordinator from Ramsey.

“As a long-time employee, I always have hoped that Unity was as dedicated to my future as much as I am dedicated to Unity’s,” she said. “But the reality is that management views us as easily expendable even through all my years of hard work for the hospital.

“I’ve been part of previous attempts over the past 10 years to organize a union at Unity and today we finally succeeded, and we will be heard!”

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota unites more than 42,000 health care and long-term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and home care throughout the state of Minnesota.

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