After calling off a strike earlier this month, health care workers at two metro-area hospitals announced new strike plans Monday, warning they will walk off the job for 48 hours starting next Monday morning if COVID-related talks with Allina Health remain stalled.
At issue is whether some 200 workers at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee and Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis maintain their pay and benefits if exposed to COVID-19 and forced to quarantine.
The workers, members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, include lab technicians, surgical techs, respiratory therapists and diagnostics techs at St. Francis, and radiology technologists in numerous specialty areas at Abbott Northwestern. Over 90% of voting members supported the strike in balloting last month.
Unlike co-workers who have protections to keep their pay and benefits while in quarantine, these SEIU members have a temporary agreement that maintains their pay and benefits after an initial exposure, but forces them to use sick time if exposed a second time, as some workers have been over the past months.
“We work closely with patients during hard times in their lives,” Judy Grack, a CT tech at Abbot, said. “We are there when their family can’t be, and we work hard every day to help people get healthy. I had to quarantine for possible COVID exposure, and now management has said I would need to use my sick time if I’m exposed again at work…
“We deserve better.”
Just days after the workers announced their strike plan earlier this month, Allina declared it would take legal action in response to any picketing of its facilities, prompting union members to postpone their plans.
Allina’s position – that the front-line, essential health care workers could not legally picket while on strike – defied common sense and has no merit, union leaders said.
“We have never seen an employer use this tactic before,” SEIU Healthcare Minnesota President Jamie Gulley said. “It is stunning to see the lengths Allina is apparently willing to go to stop front-line health care workers from standing up for safe working conditions.”
Despite postponing their initial trike plans, union members insisted their campaign was far from over.
Now, Allina’s gamesmanship and stall tactics have only strengthened their union’s resolve to get the same health and safety benefits as other Allina workers, St. Francis radiology technologist Kia Pille said.
“We have been fighting so long to be treated equally with others in Allina and our hospital, even before COVID, and now with Allina’s stunt we’re seeing even more solidarity from others in the hospital,” she said. “Despite management’s maneuvers and apparent scare tactics, we remain ready to move forward next week with this strike if Allina doesn’t come to the table with a fair proposal.”
There is one bargaining session – set for tomorrow with management and the St. Francis unit – before the strike is scheduled to begin. If workers strike, picket lines outside the two facilities would go up at 6 a.m. Oct. 5 and come down 48 hours later.