After nearing strike at Allina, SEIU members at local hospitals ratify new contracts

Dee Tomic, a nursing assistant who volunteered to work in the COVID unit during the pandemic, chooses a picket sign. “I am disappointed – very – by these negotiations,” she said.

Earlier this month, essential workers at United Hospital and seven other Allina Health facilities were ready to strike for a fair contract that respects their service on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, the 4,000 members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota struck a last-minute agreement with Allina and overwhelmingly ratified the new contract.

“We fought hard to win a contract that respects, protects and pays the workers who provide the best patient care in the world,” said Lynn Carlson, a licensed practical nurse and member of the union’s bargaining team.

“The debt we owe to the frontline, essential workers who kept Minnesota safe and healthy over this last year is immense, and we still have work to do. But I’m proud that our members fought for and won this contract.”

Key gains won by Allina workers include a 5% pay increase over the course of the three-year agreement, including 3% in the first year, with back pay. Workers also will see a 9% pension increase over the next three years.

Hospital talks wrap

Earlier this spring, another group of 4,000 SEIU Healthcare members, after negotiations separate from the Allina table, approved new contracts with their hospital employers, including M Health Fairview and Children’s hospitals, North Memorial and Park Nicollet Methodist.

The three-year contracts include pay and pension increases of 7.5% over the course of the agreement, according to SEIU.

In addition, new contract language will address racial justice, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and seek to improve workplace safety. And a new action plan will provide union members an opportunity to address concerns around safe staffing.

“We’ve worked hard this last year to keep our patients safe, and that is why it was so critical to win the best contract we could,” Hope Dahn, a nursing assistant and Park Nicollet, said. “If you work in health care – no matter what your job is – you are part of the patient’s care. I think the unity shown by our members helped us get this great contract.”

Mayor Melvin Carter speaks during a rally outside United Hospital in St. Paul.

‘You’ve been through a war for us’

Allina workers appeared headed for an unfair-labor-practice (ULP) strike in early May, as talks broke down over the provider’s refusal to budge from a 0% wage increase in the first year of the contract.

Union members staged informational picketing outside several of Allina’s facilities, including United Hospital in downtown St. Paul April 21. Supporters from the labor community, including union nurses at the hospital, walked alongside SEIU members, as did several elected officials.

“You have been through a war for us through this pandemic,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter told union members during a brief rally. “I see the trauma in your eyes. I see the hard work that you have given us, facing down this pandemic every single day.

“We know that we are in such a better place because you have stood between us and this crisis, and we’ve got to stand with you too.”

“You are essential workers, and you are essential to patient care with nurses,” United nurse Emily Sippola, a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, told SEIU members. “We can’t do it without all of you, and we will have your back because we know we’re all stronger together for patient care.”

The Allina contract also covers workers at Abbott Northwestern, St. Francis, Mercy, Buffalo, Unity and Owatonna hospitals, as well as Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis.

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