1,800 HealthPartners caregivers set strike date

Jean Pharr, a registered nurse and member of SEIU’s bargaining team at HealthPartners, speaks at a press conference to announce the strike-authorization vote.

Workers who provide care at clinics across the Twin Cities put HealthPartners on notice today that they are ready to strike to keep quality, affordable health benefits in their union contract.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which represents about 1,800 workers in the bargaining unit, delivered the legally required 10-day notice to HealthPartners after a whopping 95% of voting members supported a strike in balloting yesterday.

That means picket lines could go up outside the health provider’s 30 metro-area clinics Feb. 19 if the two sides are unable to reach agreement before then.

A strike would put registered nurses, dental hygienists, licensed practical nurses, midwives, lab techs, physicians assistants – “nearly all caregivers other than doctors,” the union says – on the picket line.

A separate union representing administrative employees at HealthPartners intends to file notice that its 1,200 members will honor SEIU’s picket line, raising the potential number of employees involved in the work stoppage to 3,000.

Kelsie Anderson, an OPEIU Local 12 member, says she plans to honor SEIU’s picket line.

At a press conference outside HealthPartners’ neuroscience facility in St. Paul, SEIU members said the decision to strike over their health care and wages was difficult but necessary to retain and attract the skilled caregivers their patients deserve.

“We’re here for our patients,” said Clara Boykin, a lab tech with over 30 years of experience working at HealthPartners. “We’re here for each other.”

Kate Lynch, a licensed practical nurse and member of the bargaining team, said she fought back tears after last-ditch talks broke down early Saturday morning, just hours after their previous contract expired. But workers, she said, can’t afford to let HealthPartners make them sick.

“Why wouldn’t you care for your employees? Why wouldn’t you want them to be healthy and go to the doctors they want to see?” Lynch said. “It is really disheartening.”

HealthPartners has not wavered from its demand for steep concessions that would force SEIU members to absorb a greater share of their health care costs. The demand comes despite published reports that HealthPartners brought in a record $7 billion in revenue last year and raised CEO Andrea Walsh’s pay to $2 million.

“If Andrea Walsh can give herself a $600,000 pay increase, I don’t think we’re in that much trouble,” Lynch said.

But SEIU members worry they will be in trouble if HealthPartners gets its way and someone on their second-rate insurance plan gets sick. Jean Pharr, a registered nurse, said her husband spent a month in the hospital after contracting pancreatitis 15 years ago.

“I didn’t have to worry about our medical bills because of the health insurance we had then – and the health insurance we have now,” Pharr said. With the substandard insurance HealthPartners is offering, she added, “we would have probably gone bankrupt.”

After the press conference ended, workers raised their fists in the air and huddled together for one last cheer of solidarity.

Among them was Kelsie Anderson, an administrative secretary for HealthPartners and vice president of Office and Professional Employees Local 12. She said SEIU’s fight is her union’s fight – both now and when Local 12 begins contract negotiations later this year.

“One of the core benefits of working at HealthPartners is our health care,” Anderson said. “If this is happening to SEIU, we’re expecting them to do the same thing to us. If they’re slapping SEIU members in the face, they’re going to slap us in the face.

“We need to stand united, and we will not be crossing that picket line.”

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  1. […] brought 1,800 nurses, technicians and other caregivers at its metro-area clinics to the brink of a strike before reaching a last-minute […]

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