Allina ordered to pay $400,000 to union, faces many more anti-labor complaints

By: - July 12, 2022 7:15 am

Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Photo courtesy of Allina Health.

The union representing Allina’s maintenance and service staff won a major victory this month when an arbitrator ruled the health care system must pay about $400,000 in restitution for halting the collection of union dues after their labor contract expired.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa says Allina sought to kneecap the union during a critical moment in negotiations by cutting off revenue to the union and sowing division among members, some of whom became delinquent on their dues.

“Employers do it as a way to gain leverage in the negotiation to threaten the solvency of the union,” said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa. “So this is really important for us for leverage.”

A spokeswoman for Allina said the company is reviewing the arbitrator’s decision and considering its options for an appeal.

Allina is one of the largest health care employers in the state with some 28,000 employees in a dozen hospitals and more than 90 clinics in Minnesota and Wisconsin. About 4,500 of those employees are unionized with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota in various bargaining units.

The union says Allina never stopped collecting union dues from workers’ paychecks since it started nearly 50 years ago. Even when contracts previously expired without a deal, the health care system never stopped the deductions,  although the union says Allina previously threatened to do so.

Allina pointed to a 2019 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board — which oversees private sector unions and their employers —  that said a company was not obligated to collect dues for a union after a labor contract expired. But the arbitrator ruled Allina was wrong to stop withholding dues and must continue collecting them as long as workers are members of SEIU.

The arbitrator ordered Allina to pay the union out of its own coffers for all the dues it didn’t collect in March and April 2021 from about 3,000 workers, which includes licensed practical nurses, dietary aides, maintenance workers and housekeeping staff.

The arbitrator, however, did not order Allina to pay interest on the uncollected dues, as the union requested.

Many members continued to pay dues on their own. Gulley said the union will refund those payments.

30 labor complaints in one year 

SEIU says halting union deductions is just the latest instance of increasingly aggressive tactics Allina is using against unionized workers.

In the last year alone, SEIU and other unions have filed 30 unfair labor practices against Allina with the NLRB. By comparison, the slightly larger and comparably unionized Fairview Health Services has had seven complaints in the same time period.

In a statement, an Allina spokeswoman said the company “acknowledges the union’s right to file an unfair labor practice charge,” and noted there is no criteria for filing a charge and the NLRB may not find that all have merit.

The NLRB recently reached a settlement with Allina after SEIU Healthcare Minnesota filed a complaint that the health care system refused to provide merit pay raises for therapists who unionized at one of their hospitals.

Although Allina didn’t acknowledge wrongdoing, the NLRB did find merit to the union’s claims and Allina agreed to provide back pay to the workers — about 2-4% raises. An Allina spokeswoman said the company provided merit increases to those employees before the NLRB made its decision.

The NLRB is also taking Allina to court after the company moved the office of its Phillips Eye Institute into its Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus, and then claimed about a dozen surgical technicians were no longer covered by their union contract. The NLRB determined Allina was wrong to stop honoring the workers’ union contract and a trial is scheduled to begin this fall.

A spokeswoman for Allina said the company disagrees with the complaint, saying “surgical technicians have been fully integrated into Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s operations.”

And SEIU Healthcare Minnesota filed a complaint against Allina earlier this year for not bargaining in good faith on a first contract with mental health workers who voted to unionize last fall.

The union charges that Allina has not made its negotiators available for enough time to reasonably reach agreement on a contract. The union also says Allina has refused to agree to language on dues deductions that is in every other SEIU contract. Those complaints are currently before the NLRB.

The mental health workers went on a one-day strike in May to pressure Allina to speed up negotiations, especially regarding workplace safety protections. Mental health workers have among the highest rates of physical and verbal abuse in the American workforce.

In yet another labor dispute, some workers who participated in the strike say they didn’t receive a bonus, which only went to workers who didn’t miss a scheduled shift. The union argues striking is protected work activity and therefore shouldn’t count against workers who otherwise didn’t miss any scheduled shifts.

“They should not be retaliated against because of the strike,” Gulley said.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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