Dee Tomic, a nursing assistant who volunteered to work in the COVID unit during the pandemic, chooses a picket sign. “I am disappointed – very – by these negotiations,” she said.

Essential workers at United Hospital are ready to strike if that’s what it takes to get a fair contract with Allina Health. 

Members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota who work at United held informational picketing outside the hospital in downtown St. Paul today, escalating their fight for a contract that respects and rewards frontline workers’ service on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Supporters from the labor community, including union nurses at the hospital, walked alongside SEIU members, as did several elected officials. 

“You have been through a war for us through this pandemic,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter told union members during a brief rally. “I see the trauma in your eyes. I see the hard work that you have given us, facing down this pandemic every single day. 

“We know that we are in such a better place because you have stood between us and this crisis, and we’ve got to stand with you too.” 

United workers are among 4,000 SEIU members at eight Twin Cities facilities who have been in contract negotiations with Allina since late January. Their previous contract expired Feb. 28, and union members have since voted by an overwhelming margin to authorize a strike, citing unfair labor practices. 

Wages are a major point of contention in bargaining. At a time when hospital workers are enduring new risks and uncertainties on the job, Allina has demanded SEIU members take a contract with no pay increases in the first year – an offer emergency room technician Missy Visnovec called disrespectful.  

“It’s kind of sad to see that your boss doesn’t appreciate you,” said Visnovec, who has worked at United for six years. “They don’t respect us.” 

Adding to the sting is Allina’s lopsided, bonus-laden executive compensation, union members said.CEO Penny Wheeler’s package exceeds $2 million annually. 

“Penny Wheeler, can you please answer this question?” Visnovec said. “Why do you feel you guys deserve those bonuses while we deserve nothing?” 

Allina also has rebuffed proposals from workers that would make their workplace safer and ensuresafe staffing levels. 

The two sides last bargained April 9. Talks are scheduled to resume tomorrow. 

Mayor Melvin Carter speaks during a rally outside United Hospital in St. Paul.

Meanwhile, another group of 4,000 SEIU Healthcare Minnesota members, after negotiations separate from the Allina table, this week approved new contracts with their hospital employers, including M Health Fairview and Children’s hospitals, North Memorial and Park Nicollet Methodist. 

The three-year contracts include pay and pension increases of 7.5% over the course of the agreement, according to SEIU. New contract language will address racial justice, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and seek to improve workplace safety. And a new action plan will provide union members an opportunity to address concerns around safe staffing. 

“We’ve worked hard this last year to keep our patients safe, and that is why it was so critical to win the best contract we could,” Hope Dahn, a nursing assistant and Park Nicollet, said. “If you work in healthcare – no matter what your job is – you are part of the patient’s care. I think the unity shown by our members helped us get this great contract.” 

Workers outside United Hospital today said they hope their display of unity sends a message to Allina that they won’t settle for less than they deserve. 

“You are essential workers, and you are essential to patient care with nurses,” United nurse Emily Sippola, a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, told SEIU members. “We can’t do it without all of you, and we will have your back because we know we’re all stronger together for patient care.” 

United Hospital workers are the third group of Allina workers to picket this month, following SEIU members at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee. Workers at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids will hold informational picketing next Wednesday

Bargaining with Allina also covers SEIU members at Buffalo, Unity and Owatonna hospitals, as well as Phillips Eye Institute. 

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