Health workers rally for own, others’ care

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Health care workers kicked off a union campaign Dec. 7 with a rally in the sanctuary at Bethany Lutheran Church on Franklin Avenue and a march to Fairview-University Medical Center on Riverside Avenue.

About 250 Service Employee Internation Union members and their supporters snaked along sidewalks from Seward to Cedar-Riverside in a single-file march through rush-hour darkness.

With songs like “Fairview’s shiftin’ my health care costs, down by the riverside,” the marchers sought to focus attention on labor contract negotiations beginning this week. Speakers at the church rally singled out Fairview-Riverside for special criticism, citing a new health care package for staff there that they said offered more than 50 options, all of which increased workers’ out-of-pocket expenses. One speaker said she left a job at Fairview due to the health benefit changes there.

SEIU’s campaign also promotes universal health care and improved conditions and supplies for its members to provide better care to patients, points highlighted in speeches by an altarfull of politicians—including those in office, about to take office, and running for office. St. Paul Mayor-elect Chris Coleman joked that Bethany Lutheran Church was an appropriate setting since leaders in this country think health care “means praying that never get sick.” Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Mike Hatch addressed the rally inside, while State Sen. Matt Entenza, an early entrant in the race to replace Hatch, led the marchers outside, past a huge Teamsters semi truck parked on Franklin Avenue.

SEIU Local 113 represents 14,000 Minnesota health care workers. Bethany Lutheran Church Pastor Steve Benson said the congregation supported the union’s campaign for “what we all need … greater human health.” The church’s basement was the destination for a post-march pizza party.

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