Nurses vote on getting rid of union at Mayo Clinic’s Mankato hospital

The effort is being led by billionaire Glen Taylor’s stepdaughter with help from the National Right to Work Foundation

By: - July 25, 2022 9:35 am

Hundreds of nurses at the Mayo Clinic’s Mankato hospital will vote on July 25 on whether to keep their union or dissolve it. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

MANKATO — Five-hundred nurses at the Mayo Clinic’s Mankato hospital will decide on Monday whether or not to get rid of their union after more than seven decades.

If the nurses vote to dissolve the union, they would deliver one of the most significant blows in recent memory to the powerful Minnesota Nurses Association and a victory for anti-union activists amid a surge in labor organizing across the country.

The effort is being led by nurse Brittany Burgess and the National Right to Work Foundation, a conservative nonprofit whose mission is to “eliminate coercive union power and compulsory unionism.”

Burgess did not return calls seeking comment, but a spokeswoman for the National Right to Work Foundation shared a statement on her behalf: “I’m extremely grateful to have the free legal assistance of the National Right to Work Foundation in fighting for our right to hold a vote to remove the union. I can’t wait until the day when we are all finally free of the (Minnesota Nurses Association).”

According to the National Right to Work Foundation, more than 200 nurses signed onto the petition Burgess filed with the National Labor Relations Board in June seeking a vote to get rid of the union, far surpassing the 30% of union members needed.

As part of the decertification effort, Burgess invited some of her colleagues to the mansion of her stepfather, Republican billionaire Glen Taylor, according to sources with knowledge of the event.

The Taylor Corporation did not return calls seeking comment, nor did the National Right to Work Foundation respond to a request for comment on the event.

Nurses opposed to the union at the Mayo Clinic’s Mankato facility invited some of their colleagues to Glen Taylor’s mansion for an event to discuss decertification. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Burgess’ mother, Becky Taylor, is a former nurse herself and has been a significant benefactor to the nursing program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, since marrying Glen Taylor in 2007. The two pledged $7 million to the university to create the Glen Taylor Nursing Institute for Family and Society, as well as a fellowship for doctoral nursing students named after Becky Taylor.

Glen Taylor, whose portfolio includes the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Star Tribune (both unionized), has said he would rather his own employees not be in unions.

Chris Rubesch, first vice president for the Minnesota Nurses Association and a cardiac nurse in Duluth, characterized the decertification effort as the meddling of outside anti-union activists looking to capitalize on workers’ frustrations.

Just as burnout from difficult working conditions during the pandemic has driven workers across sectors to seek unions in droves — with petitions for elections up 56% over last year — those conditions can also be used to sow discontent with unions, he said.

“This is an outside group taking advantage of frustrated workers,” Rubesch said of the National Right to Work Foundation.

The National Right to Work Foundation has also recently helped nurses in Maine and clerical workers at health care facilities in northern Minnesota file for elections to get rid of their unions.

A spokeswoman for the Mayo Clinic said in a statement: “This is a staff-led effort. We are grateful for the confidence the petitioners have in Mayo Clinic Health System.” She declined further comment. The Mayo Clinic is Minnesota’s largest private sector employer, with more than 48,000 workers based here.

Only a small fraction of Mayo Clinic’s 22,000 nurses nationwide are unionized, and they were grandfathered in at hospitals the health system acquired. The nurses at the Mankato hospital, for example, unionized in the late 1940s when it was Immanuel-St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Should the 500 nurses at the Mankato facility vote to get rid of their union, it would roughly halve the Mayo Clinic’s unionized nursing staff of about 1,000.

While the state’s other largest hospital operators are all unionized, nurses at the Mayo Clinic’s flagship Rochester campus have never unionized.

Rubesch, the union leader, said the Mayo Clinic has successfully avoided unions in part by matching the pay and benefits won by union nurses in the Twin Cities.

When pay and benefits are competitive, union dues can feel like an unnecessary tax.

But Mandy Blackstad, a nurse at the Mayo Clinic’s Mankato hospital, says she believes the union is still necessary to fight for working conditions that protect nurses from burnout.

“I support the union because I feel like workers should have a voice,” Blackstad said outside the hospital on Friday afternoon after her shift ended.

Before she joined the Mankato hospital 14 years ago, Blackstad said she worked at a non-unionized nursing home that paid meager wages and was chronically understaffed.

Turnover was high and she often had to stay late to care for numerous patients. As a single mom caring for a young daughter at the time, it was untenable.

“You can’t stay working for those places,” Blackstad said. “So I switched to a place that had the union, where your shift gets done at this time and you get to go home to your family.”

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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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