By Max Nesterak, Minnesota Reformer
Take a seat in the Break Room, our weekly round-up of labor news in Minnesota and beyond.
Essentia nurse practitioners and physician assistants file for union
More than 350 Essentia Health nurse practitioners and other advanced practice providers could vote to unionize with the Minnesota Nurses Association after workers filed a petition for an election with federal labor regulators on Monday.
The group includes nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists at 70 hospitals and clinics across northern Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin.
Workers say unrealistic demands force them to churn through patients and work unpaid hours.
“Burn out and moral injury among providers … are at unsustainable levels at Essentia Health. Our workload is a top contributor, yet the expectations for the number of patients many of us see in a day continues to increase,” said Lynn Gevik, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, during a press conference on Tuesday.
“This year, Essentia opened a new, state-of-the-art hospital that cost nearly $1 billion to construct, yet in its shadow there are (advanced practice providers) who have not had raises for years,” Gevik said.
Gevik said Essentia claims 90% of advanced practice providers received raises this year, but union leaders say some workers received as small an increase as 1 cent per hour.
In a statement, Essentia said it believes “maintaining a direct relationship is the right choice for these Essentia providers. We are currently reviewing the petition and will act in good faith throughout the process.”
The announcement marks another expansion of organized labor into health care’s upper echelons, where unions are still relatively rare but finding a new audience among clinicians who feel exploited by ever-expanding health systems. In October, more than 550 doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at 61 Allina Health primary and urgent care clinics voted to unionize, forming the country’s largest private-sector doctors’ union.
Union nurses fight benefit cuts at Hennepin Healthcare
The Hennepin County Board delayed approving the annual budget of Hennepin Healthcare, amid protests by union workers over cuts to health benefits.
Union nurses announced a symbolic vote of no confidence in Hennepin Healthcare CEO Jennifer DeCubellis ahead of the board meeting on Tuesday, saying conditions at the county hospital are driving nurses away from the bedside.
“We are asked to do more with less, but we have nothing left to give,” said Janell Johnson Theile, a nurse at HCMC and member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, during a joint press conference with workers from AFSCME Local 2474 and the Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs.
“Our CEO took a large pay increase, while simultaneously increasing the cost but decreasing the benefits of our health insurance plan,” Johnson Theile said.
DeCubellis, whose pay this year rose more than 12% to $940,000 plus around $175,000 in incentive pay, called it a “tough budget,” with the hospital system facing a $127 million budget shortfall in 2024. A hospital spokesperson said DeCubellis’ base salary is less than about 75% of peer CEOs.
The hospital said 70% of enrolled employees will see no change or a reduction in cost under the proposed benefits changes. The remaining workers will see only moderate premium increases — about $4.50 per pay period for a single person.
While premiums may rise only slightly, union workers say the proposed plans will increase deductibles and make it much more expensive to receive care outside of HCMC, which is already struggling with demand as a county hospital. A nurses’ union spokesperson said one member’s previous pregnancy cost $500 but estimates her next delivery will cost upwards of $6,000 under the proposed plan.
Planned Parenthood workers picket over unfair labor practices
Planned Parenthood North Central States workers picket outside a clinic in Minneapolis as part of a protest over what union leaders say are unfair labor practices. Photo courtesy SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa.
Newly unionized workers at Planned Parenthood North Central States picketed outside clinics in Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa on Thursday to call attention to stalled negotiations over wages and to protest what the union says are unfair labor practices by the non-profit organization. The action was not a strike.
Over 430 workers unionized with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa in July 2022 and began bargaining in October. Since then, over half the original bargaining team are no longer with the organization, according to the union. That includes Grace Larson, who the union says was illegally fired in retaliation for her union efforts. PPNCS says no worker has been disciplined or terminated for union activity; the issue is before federal labor regulators.
Planned Parenthood North Central States leaders said they are committed to reaching an initial contract as quickly as possible and deny any wrongdoing.
“PPNCS is not, has not, and will not participate in any union busting activities,” Molly Gage, vice president of human resources, said in a statement. “We are encouraged by the progress that has already been made at the table.”
Vertical Endeavors workers win union election
About 90 workers across five Vertical Endeavors rock climbing gyms unionized with UFCW Locals 663 and 1189, with ballots counted by federal labor officials on Thursday. More than 80% of workers voted in favor of the union.
Union organizers say they plan to negotiate for more consistent pay across locations that matches workers’ experience. They also want higher safety standards and an overall greater voice in how the gyms are run.
“We’re looking for more fair treatment, fair and competitive pay, safer working conditions and a seat at the table when it comes to decisions that influence us,” said Esthi Erickson, a head coach at the Minneapolis location.
Erickson said entry-level workers earn minimum wage, while full-time shift managers earn about $2 more per hour.
Worker illegally fired for pregnancy wins settlement
A Minnesota dental office paid a former worker $97,000 for illegally firing her for being pregnant as part of a settlement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the agency announced on Wednesday.
In December 2020, Christina Vescio-Holland told her employer, PL Dental in Coon Rapids, that she was pregnant with twins, and that her doctor told her she needed to begin parental leave early. The office manager met with Vescio-Holland days later and said she was being terminated but could return to work after she gave birth.
Under state law, employers may not refuse reasonable accommodations, fire or deny promotions to workers because they are pregnant. Workers are also not required to tell employers that they are or are planning to become pregnant, and employers may not ask.
PL Dental declined to comment.
Wisconsin unions sue over ban on collective bargaining for most public employees
Seven unions are seeking to end Wisconsin’s ban on collective bargaining for most public employees through a lawsuit filed Thursday that challenges a 2011 law known as Act 10, the Associated Press reported.
Challenges to the law have previously failed but the state Supreme Court recently flipped to a liberal majority, giving labor leaders new hope at undoing a law that led to a significant decrease in union membership.
The law doesn’t allow public unions to bargain for base wage increases beyond inflation and disallows them from automatically withdrawing union dues. The law also requires annual recertification votes for unions and forced workers to pay more for health insurance and retirement benefits.
The lawsuit, filed by seven unions representing teachers and other public workers, say the law’s exemption of police, firefighters and other public safety workers violates the state’s constitution.
Hourly school workers on receiving unemployment insurance
Minnesota became the first state this year to offer unemployment insurance benefits to hourly school workers such as bus drivers and paraprofessionals during the summer.
Unlike other seasonal workers, hourly school workers would lose income when the school year ended and either have to find temporary jobs for the summer months or live off any savings from the school year.
Unions representing hourly school workers — SEIU Local 284, Education Minnesota, the Teamsters Local 320 and AFSCME Councils 5 and 65 — shared statements from workers on the impact the new law has had.
“This year, because of UI, I was able to care for my grandbabies and move my mom up so I can take care of her. The little bit of financial security from UI helped 4 generations of my family,” said Cat Briggs, a school bus driver for independent school district 196.
“This summer was also the first summer I felt like I got the mental break I needed. Instead of working 3 jobs this summer I was able to work just one … In my district this year there wasn’t a turnover of staff. Everyone returned. In 12 years, that has never happened,” said Courtney Hammes, a Zumbrota-Mazeppa paraprofessional.
“My husband and I sold our second car during the pandemic. I work freelance and sell my artwork over the summer, and COVID dried up that critical income … Having UI this summer meant we could finally get a much-needed second car again,” said Jessica Shimek, a college lab assistant in the visual arts department at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
How Jane McAlevey transformed the labor movement
Leading labor organizer and strategist Jane McAlevey is still working — and still “frenetic” — despite battling an aggressive cancer that isn’t responding to treatments. The New Yorker recently profiled McAlevey, who was among a group of thinkers who transformed the American labor movement with ideas of engaging with workers’ struggles beyond the workplace, leveraging their existing social connections and exerting pressure strategically.
For example, she helped organize janitors, cab drivers, city clerks and nursing-home aides in Stamford, Connecticut by harnessing their struggles to find affordable housing and leveraging the influence of local churches.
“Note to labor … Workers relate more to their faith than to their job, and fear God more than they fear the boss,” McAlevey later wrote about the campaign.
“If at any point during this past hot labor summer, or the decade leading up to it, you encountered a group of workers strutting on a picket line or jubilantly making demands well beyond the scope of their own wages, chances are that many of them had been reading McAlevey,” Eleni Schirmer writes.
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