SEIU, Allina cooperate to create ‘strategic alliance’

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Workers at four Allina hospitals have overwhelmingly ratified a new two-year contract that creates a “strategic alliance” between SEIU Local 113 and Allina.

The alliance commits to a collaborative, rather than confrontational, approach among the workers, their union and hospital management. It not only takes steps to improve workers’ wages, health care, safety and job security, but works to help them improve how they do their jobs and how they care for patients, said Local 113 president Julie Schnell and Allina CEO Dick Pettingill.

“It’s very exciting,” Schnell said. “If feels like this contract is about hope for the future, rather than the status quo.”

The alliance allows Allina to tap into “the initiative and creativity of employees and union staff,” Pettingill said, to find new ways to provide quality care at affordable prices. “Workers see it every day,” he said. “They’re closer to the problems. They’re closer to the patients. They have the imagination and the ideas that can help us improve care.”

Negotiations were scheduled to resume Thursday, March 9, between Local 113 and a multi-employer assocation employing 3,500 workers. The union has characterized those talks as “slow” and “difficult.” See related story.

Pettingill came to Allina from the California division of Kaiser Permanente, which has a track record of labor-management cooperation. Discussions last year with SEIU leadership convinced him they were all on the same page here.

The alliance will create “leadership teams” in the Allina system and at each hospital, allowing workers to bring key issues forward without fear.

The collaboration will look beyond the hospitals, too. “We’re working with labor to find innovative ways to solve the health-care crisis facing America,” Pettingill said.

“The old techniques of conducting our business aren’t going to get the degree of improvement that we need about providing high-quality and affordable health care,” he added. “So, we decided to pursue a path of collaboration that really focuses on business performance issues and gives our employees an opportunity to be very actively engaged in that, where their voice is valued, and we tap into their innovation and imagination.”

“It’s an incredible opportunity to have discussions about health-care reform in real way,” Schnell said, “to look at ‘What are the things we can do together? What do we have the power to affect in Minnesota and the rest of the country?’ “

The new contract is the first proof of the alliance. Perhaps most dramatic is Allina’s approach to health insurance. Premiums for workers with individual coverage will not increase at all; workers with single-plus or family coverage actually will pay less – between $520 and $1,964 a year less. That’s on top of a 4 percent pay raise on March 1 and an additional 4.5 percent raise on March 1, 2007.

The contract also improves job security for workers and, through an Allina neutrality pledge, makes it easier for nonunion workers to join SEIU.

The contract covers 2,500 SEIU workers at United Hospital in St. Paul, Abbott Northwestern and Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis, and Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids.

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