Mayo Clinic and workers’ union trial finishes

Published 10:29 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

A trial regarding allegations of unfair labor practices by Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea made by maintenance workers finished last week.

According to a union press release, a timetable for a ruling has not been set, and future bargaining between the maintenance workers and Mayo has not been scheduled.

According to the press release, maintenance worker Nate Johnson testified during the trial before a Washington, D.C., administrative law judge.

Email newsletter signup

Johnson, who also testified before the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel in 2016, said he was pleased the workers were heard.

“My co-workers and I have worked at Mayo for decades, and it is hard to believe we are fighting this hard for basic respect,” he said. “I was proud to testify in front of the administrative law judge, and to share the frustration we feel as we simply ask for Mayo to bargain in good faith. Being able to tell our story to the judge makes me feel confident that Mayo can be held accountable.”

The case stems from a disagreement between Mayo Clinic and the union representing the maintenance workers, Service Employees International Union Healthcare Minnesota. The union is opposing language in a proposed contract that would allow Mayo Clinic Health System to make changes to the union’s benefits during the contract’s three-year period. Union members are concerned the change in the contract would eliminate negotiation. The members want their benefits secured in writing.

Paul Blom, who has worked at the hospital for 17 years, said maintenance workers are unified.

“We are all proud of the good work we do making sure the hospital stays up and running so our community has a place to go to get healthy,” he said. “We aren’t asking for CEO pay — just a fair contract that supports our families and allows for these jobs to continue to be good jobs. A majority of our group made the trip to Minneapolis to watch the trial because we knew how important this is to the future of not just our jobs, but everyone who works in our hospital.”

He said Albert Lea and southern Minnesota have always supported Mayo Clinic and should be treated better than the way the hospital is treating the community.

Mark Ciota, CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin and Albert Lea, disputed the union’s assertion that Mayo Clinic has not negotiated in good faith.

“We have bargained in good faith and complied with the law, and we are confident that the administrative law judge, or, if necessary, the full National Labor Relations Board, will agree,” he said.

Ciota said the hospital is in contract discussions with both employee groups that are represented by SEIU.

“These groups are being offered the same Mayo Clinic benefits package that is enjoyed by virtually all other allied health employees, which we strongly believe is better as a whole than the benefits they currently receive,” he said.

SEIU is opposing standard contract language that would allow the medical center to make adjustments to the benefits during the contract period to keep benefits consistent with those offered to other union and non-union employees, Ciota said.

“This language has already been accepted by all other union groups in Austin and Albert Lea and also applies to virtually all non-union employees,” he said. “We are optimistic we will reach a contract agreement acceptable to all parties and will continue working hard toward that end.”

Maintenance workers and community members have had two informational pickets outside the Albert Lea hospital in connection with the dispute. SEIU Healthcare Minnesota took out a full-page ad in the Tribune this week highlighting its side of the story.

The case is the result of a Dec. 5 determination by the NLRB General Counsel that the charges against Mayo Clinic have merit. According to the union press release, the labor board found that Mayo failed to bargain in good faith regarding the maintenance employees.

SEIU Healthcare President Jamie Gulley said the case showed Mayo has lost sight of its values and respect for long-term employees.

“The trial last week showed again that Mayo has lost its way,” he said. “After nearly two years of this behavior, it is time for Mayo to show some respect to these dedicated workers. By refusing to conduct even basic negotiations with this group — and now playing this same disrespectful game with another group of their employees — Mayo is going down a path that will harm the workers and the whole community.

“While Mayo pays big salaries for executives and asks for taxpayer money for their buildings, they turn around and treat people who have given their heart and soul to the organization this way. It is sad, and we hope even before a ruling comes down from a judge that Mayo comes to (its) senses and treats these hardworking community members with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

email author More by Sam