Mental health workers plan to strike on Monday

More than four months after mental health workers picketed M Health Fairview and Allina hospitals, they plan to strike again.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa has filed a strike notice beginning Monday, October 3rd.

“We haven’t been able to make the progress we’ve been looking for,” said Kelly Benson, senior mental health coordinator at Abbott Northwestern.

She is part of the union’s negotiating team and explained that they are pushing for improved safety, including higher staffing levels.

“We have issues with understaffing, which can lead to care issues,” Benson said. “If we have people who are going through something really serious and struggling and may act out violently or aggressively, we are not able to safely care for the patients on the ward and the patient who is struggling.”

The trauma of the community during the pandemic led to more patients and more acute patients, according to Benson.

The union argues that pay increases are another important part of meeting demand.

“With higher pay, it really attracts more people who are qualified to come into the field to increase the staffing level,” she said. “At the moment this work is not sustainable. Sometimes I can’t pay my rent just because of the low pay of this job.

In a statement, the health system said, “Allina Health values ​​our employees and recognizes the critical services that senior mental health coordinators provide to the community. We have negotiated in good faith with the union 18 times since they chose to unionize. It typically takes more than a year for newly formed bargaining units to reach an agreement on their first contract. There are additional bargaining sessions this week and in October to allow the parties to reach an agreement and avoid a strike, which did not advance our discussions in May, when SEIU first took employees on strike.

During negotiations, Allina Health offered an economical package that provided competitive compensation and additional benefits. We also proposed the same language the union agreed to on behalf of other Allina Health employees regarding workplace safety. A strike does no one any good. However, we will be prepared to continue to care for our community in the event that no agreement is reached.

M Health Fairview said in a statement: “We share the desire for our psychiatric fellows, senior psychiatric fellows and behavioral assistants to work in an environment where they feel safe, valued and supported. We have negotiated in good faith with the union over the past 9 months to reach a contract that supports our employees and gives us the flexibility we need to provide high quality care to our patients. We have made significant progress, including reaching 17 preliminary agreements.

Healthcare organizations across the country are in the midst of a dual staffing and mental health crisis. We will continue to bargain in good faith with our colleagues to reach a contract that all parties believe is fair and honest. Safe patient care is a top priority and we are currently working on an emergency response plan. Care will continue to be provided in our hospital mental health units unless an agreement is reached by next week.

The planned 3-day strike is set to begin three weeks after about 15,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association walked off the job for three days. The MNA strike affected seven health systems in the state, including Allina and M Health Fairview.

“I think we’re actually seeing something new, and that’s strikes that aren’t aimed at causing economic damage or pressure on the employer,” said Peter Rahleff, a labor historian. “These strikes are actually protests or demonstrations, a call to society to pay attention to what is happening.

He points out that we’ve seen frontline workers in several industries organize over the past two years, from hospital workers to grocery store workers to baristas and railroad workers.

“This has been a particularly active year both in terms of organizing and in terms of strikes,” Rahleff said. “The pandemic has created certain types of stress that have made people’s jobs more difficult and stressful to do, and on the other hand, the pandemic has revealed deeper, longer patterns.”

Giving the example of railway workers, he said: “Workers have struggled for 30 years with a kind of ever-weaker employment structure, so that time off – time to go to the doctor, time to attend funerals, weddings, graduations – everything was at a premium. […] The pandemic has made it feel like a crisis, not just something you have to grit your teeth and endure.”

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