September 26, 2022

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa members are demanding improved safety and security measures, a better pay scale — and more respect.

MINNEAPOLIS — Mental health workers from MHealth Fairview and Allina Health announced plans to hold a one-day strike over alleged unfair labor practices. At a press conference Monday, members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa said they’ll be on the picket line Tuesday, May 24, beginning at 6 a.m. outside Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis and the Allina Health Mercy Hospital – Unity Campus in Fridley.

Members voted Friday to authorize the upcoming strike. This comes five or six months after officially forming their union in late 2021. Meaning, contract negotiations with MHealth Fairview and Allina Health are happening for the first time. The union says both health care systems have refused to reach a fair agreement so far.

“Mental health is in a crisis here in the Twin Cities,” said Chris Nohner, psych associate at MHealth Fairview Riverside. “Mental health cases continue to surge. We are losing staff because of the low pay, the lack of respect, and the dangerous environment that we work in. At the same time, hospital systems are closing facilities. CEOs and executives are making millions, while frontline staff, their wages don’t even go up with inflation.”

Workers are asking for a better pay scale. However, no specific percentages were mentioned publicly.

“What we’re really trying to do is adjust the wage scale so they’re more in line with other professional health care workers,” said Brenda Hilbrich, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa.

Workers are also demanding improved safety and security measures and overall more respect from their employers.

“When our departments are not retaining staff, the ability to safely manage violent situations becomes impossible,” said Kellie Benson, senior mental health coordinator at Allina Abbott Northwestern Hospital. “I have seen many of my teammates and friends leave the job after being injured … We want and need the best care for our patients and better treatment of staff so we can provide care that lasts.”

Benson shared that before working in the mental health field, she was a patient.

“When I was 16, I was at Fairview Riverside,” Benson said. “Those were the people taking care of me and helping me get through my days, helping me figure out the issues I was having that I couldn’t really talk to anybody else about … The care has changed from when I think I was younger and experiencing it … The need has changed and I don’t think the hospitals have caught up with that need quite yet.”

MHealth Fairview the following statement in response to the strike announcement:

“We share the desire for our psych associates, senior psych associates, and behavioral assistants to work in an environment where they feel valued and supported. We have negotiated in good faith with the union for the last 5 months to align on a contract that supports our employees and provides us with the flexibility we need to provide top-quality care to our patients. While we have made progress, concerns remain. The union has proposed limitations to how we care for our patients that we cannot agree to. While we look forward a contract that provides fair wages, we have not yet received a wage proposal from SEIU. In their proposed contract, they are proposing actions that violate our standards of care, and a patient’s privacy rights. These are items we cannot agree to.

Health care organizations across the country are in the middle of a dual staffing and mental health crisis. Their work is crucial now more than ever, and it’s imperative that all parties work together to provide upstream solutions. Hospitals across the country are facing levels of demand for mental health care never before seen. We will continue to bargain in good faith with our colleagues to settle on a contract all parties believe is equal and fair.”

Allina Health also sent the following statement in response to the strike announcement:

“Allina Health values our employees and recognizes the critical services they provide to the community, especially as we face a mental health crisis here and across the nation. We have met with the SEIU represented senior mental health coordinators and diagnostic sonographers over the last few months to negotiate terms and conditions of employment that recognize the contributions of our employees and the complexity and sustainability of delivering care to the community. Allina Health has offered an economic package that provides competitive compensation and additional benefits. We have also offered the same language the union agreed to on behalf of other Allina Health employees regarding workplace safety. While our preference is to reach an agreement on employment terms and avoid work stoppages that don’t benefit anyone, we are preparing plans to meet the care needs of the community for the duration of a work stoppage.”

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