Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea service workers authorize ability to strike

Published 1:23 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mayo Clinic and union service workers in Albert Lea are in conflict over a new contract, a situation that could lead to a strike.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota announced Tuesday more than 92 percent of its voting members voted to authorize a one-day strike if Mayo “continues to refuse to bargain in good faith,” a press release states. 

The group includes 79 members who work as certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, sterile processing, and utilities and materials management.

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The development came as the two sides work on a multi-year contract. Conflict was sparked after the union objected to a clause that union benefits could change in accordance with a change in benefits for non-unionized employees.

Mayo and SEIU accuse each other of failing to agree to negotiate the contract.

A strike could be called at any time with a 10-day notice. No strike date was set by the vote.

“The workers, many of whom have decades of experience, are simply asking for Mayo to bargain in good faith, something they have refused to do in the past few months,” the press release states. “Currently, Mayo is demanding a race-to-the-bottom clause that would allow them to take benefits away from employees at any time, regardless of the contract, something that is a non-starter for union workers.”

In an email Tuesday, Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Joan Gorden described the union vote as “a standard union tactic in negotiations.”

“We are nevertheless disappointed the union has chosen to make this decision, especially since the SEIU leadership has not asked to meet with us to negotiate since May,” she said. “It is difficult to move toward an agreement acceptable to all sides when the parties are not meeting.

“Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea has been and continues to be ready to return to the bargaining table, and we would hope that SEIU feels the same way. This strike authorization, however, sends a very different message.”

Gorden said allowing the hospital system to make adjustments to benefits during the contract period has been accepted “by virtually all union groups within the Mayo Clinic Health System, including all other union groups in Albert Lea and Austin and also applies to virtually all non-union employees.”

In the press release, Heather Olson, who has worked as a housekeeper at Mayo for 12 years, said she voted for the union proposal because there were “no other options.”

“They want to take away everything and aren’t willing to show us we have value or meet us halfway,” she said. “They want to take away everything and aren’t willing to show us we have value or meet us halfway.

“It is hard to understand and really feels like we have little to no value at all. It is definitely taking a toll on morale. I hope this will help get them to understand that patients, employees and the community matter.”

Justin Yost, a union worker who has been employed at Mayo for 14 years in the utilities department, said he voted yes after realizing his employer was cutting resources to save money.

“I voted yes to authorize the strike because when you work for a big health care corporation, you shouldn’t have to worry about not having or being able to afford health care,” he said. “That could be a reality if Mayo refuses to budge on their proposal to be able to take away health care from employees at any time. I hope they will come back to the table and bargain in good faith.”

Gorden said if workers decide to strike, they would not be able to work for at least a week because the hospital system must commit to a one-week contract with replacement workers they would need to hire if the strike occurs.

Gorden said the hospital is bargaining in good faith and cited a Sept. 21 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board dismissing the SEIU’s Unfair Labor Practice claims against the hospital system as affirmation of the hospital system’s efforts to comply with the law and negotiate in good faith.

“We are pleased with the judge’s ruling and hope to return to the bargaining table soon to come to an agreement on a fair and sustainable contract that is acceptable to both parties,” Gorden said. 

About Sam Wilmes

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

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