Hospital workers step up pressure to resume bargaining

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“Two, four, six, eight — come out and negotiate!” members of Service Employees International Union Local 113 chanted Wednesday outside Fairview-Riverside Hospital. The workers say they can’t accept the hospital’s “final offer” and want management back at the bargaining table.

On March 9, a multi-employer association representing nine Twin Cities hospitals — including Fairview-Riverside — presented what it characterized as its final offer, the union said. The proposal “does not meet any of our goals,” said Julie Schnell, president of Local 113.

The contract expired Feb. 28 for 3,500 nursing assistants, dietary workers, housekeeping staff and others at HealthEast Bethesda Rehabilitation Hospitals in St. Paul and Minneapolis, HealthEast St. John’s in Maplewood, Children’s Hospitals in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Fairview University Medical Center-Riverside Campus, Fairview Southdale in Edina, North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. They are covered by a multi-employer contract with Local 113.

The union has not scheduled a vote on the offer nor has it proceeded toward a strike. Rather, Local 113 members are discussing the proposal with other members and asking them to sign a petition opposing it.

Wednesday’s demonstration was part of an effort to get employers back to the bargaining table, said Local 113 member Brad Weisz, a member of the negotiating committee.

“We’re still ready to negotiate,” he said. “Hopefully the hospitals wll see how strong we are today and get things moving.”

Weisz, a 21-year employee at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, said health care premiums have risen steadily every year — even though the hospitals are self-insured.

“People have to decide whether to pay their mortgage, food or health care,” he said.

Recently, the union concluded successful negotiations with the Allina group of hospitals. Weisz said the Allina contract is a partnership with workers to reduce costs, improve conditions for workers and improve patient care. Hospitals can lead the way in cutting health care costs if only they would involve workers, he said.

Instead, Fairview-Riverside has instituted a complex web of 52 different health plans, Weisz said. “Every one of them increases out-of-pocket costs.”

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