Hospital workers picket Allina hospitals, calling for safe staffing levels



Nearly 1,000 members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and supporters walked an informational picket line yesterday at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, calling for safer staffing levels. “I’m here for our patients’ quality care as well as for health and safety for my co-workers,” said one of the picketers, Kalsang Dickey, Richfield, who has worked as a nursing assistant at Abbott Northwestern for 15 years.

Contract negotiations are underway for about 3,000 hospital workers at Abbott-Northwestern and seven other hospitals owned by Allina Health: Buffalo, Mercy, Owatonna, St. Francis, United, Unity, and Phillips Eye Institute. The workers’ contract expired February 28.

“Allina has cut staff at every hospital in the last three years, but we are still working the same or more hours and it means we are constantly understaffed,” Dickey said. “It’s hard for us to take care of patients.”

Dickey works in the Mother Baby Center at Abbott-Northwestern and said sometimes only one nursing assistant is scheduled for the night shift. “If we have more nursing assistants, we can do a better job taking care of our patients’ needs.”

SEIU Healthcare members also raised concerns about Allina proposals to subcontract hospital jobs and the impact on workers and patients.

“If Allina executives subcontract hospital jobs like Dietary and Environmental Services to the lowest bidder, I think there will be higher turnover, less training, lower standards, and all of that will harm patient care,” warned Dawn Akkaya, SEIU Healthcare member who for 16 years has worked as nursing assistant and patient assistant coordinator at Abbott-Northwestern. “We want to work with Allina to invest in our healthcare workforce, not drive a race to the bottom.”

Pay is also an issue in the negotiations, said Dickey, who said she needs to take on extra shifts to make ends meet for her family with two wage-earners and three kids.

“This hospital is our second home,” Dickey said, and her co-workers are like brothers and sisters. “We are standing up for our rights. We want to make this family better,” she said, so that the hospital workers can provide quality care for patients.

Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association walked the along the informational picket-line with SEIU Healthcare members, including James Davies, RN, Minneapolis, who has worked 31 years at Abbott-Northwestern. “We’re here as MNA members to support our fellow union members at the hospital,” Davies said.

SEIU Healthcare also staged informational pickets on Thursday, March 26 from 2:00-5:00 p.m. at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and United Hospital in St. Paul in which another 1,000 workers and supporters participated.

[At right: Kalsang Dickey, Richfield, has worked 15 years as a nursing assistant at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. She is an SEIU Healthcare Minnesota union steward: “We are standing up for our rights.”]

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