Twin Cities hospital strike vote scheduled

MINNEAPOLIS - Members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota will vote May 14-15 whether to authorize a strike at eight Twin Cities hospitals. They also are challenging the roles of bankers on hospital boards and a debt collection company that has garnered headlines for questionable practices.

A number of issues are coming together in the negotiations with Fairview, North Memorial, Methodist, Children's Hospitals, and Health East on contracts covering 3,500 workers, said Tee McClenty, executive vice president of the union.

"Our goal is to reach the best contract settlement for our members with no significant concessions," she said. However, workers are concerned by management demands for changes in the workday and overtime provisions and vacation and sick time benefits. The hospitals also seek large increases in the employee contribution for health care coverage.

Hospital negotiators have adopted a "Wall Street mentality," McClenty said. "These are non-profit community hospitals, but they're operating more like a for-profit corporation."

The union is targeting Wells Fargo CEO Jon Campbell, one of three bankers who sit on the board of directors of Fairview. Members marched on the afternoon of May 10 outside the Riverside Avenue branch of Wells Fargo under the slogan, "Quality care should be at the center of Fairview Hospital, not big banks!"

At the bargaining table, the union asked the hospitals if any members' health records or confidential information was compromised by Accretive Health, a Chicago-based firm that Fairview and North Memorial hired to collect payments from patients.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson released a report last month alleging that Accretive had access to private patient information. News reports indicate Accretive engaged in questionable practices, such as cornering patients in emergency rooms.

The hospitals have not responded to two information requests from SEIU, leading the union to file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board's regional office.

"We believe our members' information could be compromised, so we actually added some additional proposals to our negotiations to make sure our members' privacy is protected," McClenty said. Members also are concerned that Accretive may be performing some of their work or obstructing them in the performance of their jobs.

If any of our members have had to deny patients care because of Accretive standing in the way, that puts them in an unethical position," McClenty said.

The current hospital contracts expired Feb. 29 and have been extended three times while negotiations continued. The next bargaining session was scheduled for May 16. McClenty said members would ramp up pressure for a settlement by taking the vote authorizing union leaders to call a strike if no progress is made in the next session.

"Our hope is to have a contract settlement on the 16th," she said.

Barb Kucera is editor of Workday Minnesota.

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