HCMC Clericals Say Yes to Union

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After a three-month campaign to collect union authorization cards, 567 clerical workers at Hennepin County Medical Center now will be represented by Council 5 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services Thursday certified that a majority of clerical workers at HCMC had properly signed union authorization cards — 294 workers out of the 567 total who are part of the designated bargaining unit. The final number of certified cards represented a majority of 50 percent plus nine.

“We built this union one person at a time,” said Jody Jacobs, a 28-year HCMC employee, who participated in the organizing campaign and awaited the BMS count in St. Paul along with coworker Anita Penn and two AFSCME organizers.

Penn, a seven-year HCMC employee, initiated a call to AFSCME in March to request help to organize her co-workers. She said “changes at the hospital” prompted her call, including a change in governance of HCMC, the state’s last public hospital.

“We’re a very large group that was completely unrepresented,” Jacobs said, noting that anxious workers sought a voice to represent their interests during a time of transition at HCMC.

AFSCME Council 5 successfully negotiated with HCMC to win a “card-check” agreement, which provided that HCMC would recognize a union if a majority plus one of workers in the designated unit signed union authorization cards.

Still, approaching workers and collecting the cards was no easy matter.

“The hospital is a big place: three shifts, around the clock, 24-7,” said AFSCME organizer Marybeth Juetten. The hospital is spread over several city blocks, she noted. In addition, access was limited to many wards where the clerical workers worked.

“The real work of the campaign was the organizing committee,” said AFSCME organizing director Eric Lehto. “It was definitely an inside effort.”

“We built this campaign on respect and dignity and we conducted ourselves that way the entire time,” said Jacobs.

The newly-organized workers will enter negotiations for a contract immediately, the union said. AFSCME Council 5 also represents 1,000 other workers at HCMC, Lehto said.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Nurses Association, under another card-check agreement with HCMC, also is collecting union authorization cards from HCMC nurses. The deadline for collecting the cards is Nov. 30.

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