The Potluck

Allina health care workers postpone strike following threat of unusual legal challenge

By: - September 9, 2020 4:05 pm

Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Photo courtesy of Allina Health.

Around 200 health care workers at two Allina hospitals will postpone a two-day strike after the nonprofit medical provider threatened legal action for violating what the union calls an “arcane” labor rule.

Allina Health told workers they would be breaking federal labor laws by picketing on September 14 and 15 because they did not provide 10 days notice, according to Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. The union filed a 10-day notice to strike — but not picket — last week and Allina Health claims workers must file notices for both.

“We expect that the union will not engage in picketing activity during the strike next
week. Please be advised that if the union engages in any Please be advised that if the union engages in any type of picketing activity, Allina Health will immediately file an unfair labor practice charge,” Timothy Kohls, vice president for labor relations at Allina Health, wrote in an email to the union on Tuesday.

Gulley said the union has never seen such a complaint.

“Our notice is the same as it’s always been, but they’re advancing a new legal theory that you have to do both,” Gulley said. “So out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to reschedule the strike.”

Over 90% of the technical health care workers — including surgical techs, respiratory therapists and diagnostics techs — at Abbott Northwestern and St. Francis Medical Center in Shakopee voted in favor of the strike after months of negotiations broke down.

The workers, some of whom help treat patients with COVID-19, want protections and benefits more in line with what other unionized health care workers receive at the two hospitals. For example, other health care workers are paid while in quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19 and awaiting test results, but technical health care staff have had to use their personal sick time after their first exposure.

The technical healthcare workers are also demanding more paid time off and improvements to their health insurance and retirement plans.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota says they will announce a new strike date soon with a picketing announcement.

In an email, Allina Health spokesman Tim Burke said the organization is pleased that the strike has been called off temporarily.

“We look forward to a renewed opportunity to settle the economic issues identified by union leadership at the negotiation table, rather than enduring a costly and counterproductive strike during a global pandemic,” Burke wrote.

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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.