Area Red Cross workers join AFSCME after first-of-its-kind union drive

Project1_Layout 1In his 16 years working as a phlebotomist for the American Red Cross, Roy Nodsle had seen union-organizing drives start and sputter before. But last summer, he finally saw one cross the finish line.

“I’ve never been union before, but the idea of a group of people having a voice to talk about our workplace always sounded like a good idea to me,” the 62-year-old Carlos resident said. “So I was excited and a little apprehensive, but compared to the other (organizing drives), it went really well.”

By a 3-to-1 margin, Nodsle and other North Central Region Red Cross workers voted in October to form a union, joining Local 3931 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The new bargaining unit includes nearly 300 phlebotomists, couriers, material coordinators and other frontline workers at Red Cross outposts in Minnesota, western Wisconsin and eastern South Dakota.

It’s the first successful organizing effort since AFSCME and seven other international unions reached a nationwide labor-peace agreement with Red Cross in 2013. The employer agreed to remain neutral during organizing campaigns, AFSCME Council 5 organizer Marybeth Juetten said.

“On our side of it, we weren’t running a negative campaign,” Juetten said. “We were really listening to the workers, and what we learned really quick was they really love what they do. They love their clients, love their work and want to keep this organization healthy and thriving.

“To do that, they need a voice in the workplace. And that’s what this drive was all about.”

Talks on a first contract have yet to begin, but Local 3931 has started pulling together a negotiating team. That’s no small challenge for a bargaining unit spread across three states, with members whose schedules change weekly.

“This group never sits still,” Juetten said. “They work all over the map, whenever and wherever blood mobiles are in demand.”

Nodsle said he hopes bargaining yields improvements in workers’ wages and benefits, as well as a pathway for “getting everybody” – management and frontline staff – “to work together toward the same cause.”

As for being the first major unit to organize under the nationwide neutrality agreement, Nodsle said it felt “pretty good.”

“But both parties – AFSCME International and American Red Cross – are working extremely hard at this, and it’s been amazing for me to watch,” Juetten said. “Both parties have taken a very professional approach.”

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