HealthPartners workers prepare for Wednesday strike at 30 clinics

    Bloomington-based health care provider and insurer HealthPartners employs 26,000 people. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

    More than 1,800 HealthPartners nurses, lab technicians, dental hygienists and other health care workers are preparing to begin a week-long strike Wednesday after a last-ditch effort failed to resolve disagreements over their next union contract.

    Workers from SEIU Healthcare Minnesota said at a Monday news conference that they are still very far apart.

    “If we can’t reach a deal, we are unified and ready to strike Wednesday morning to win what we deserve,” said Kate Lynch, a HealthPartners nurse and member of the bargaining committee.

    For months, HealthPartners and its health care workers have been negotiating a three-year contract. Their previous contract expired January 31, and the union voted overwhelmingly to strike.

    The strike would affect some 30 HealthPartners clinics across the Twin Cities metro and would lead to more than just health care workers being absent. Because their union-represented colleagues are not required to cross a picket line, an additional 1,200 administrative workers, janitors and security guards could not show up for work on Wednesday.

    The main sticking point is over health insurance. HealthPartners wants employees to pay slightly more for their health coverage to reduce costs. For decades, health care workers at HealthPartners have enjoyed generous benefits: most have no monthly premiums, no  deductible and minimal co-pays.

    Union leaders point to record-high revenue at the Bloomington-based health care provider and insurer as one reason why the insurer’s position is unacceptable. They say any concessions they make to their health care plans will only produce more profit for executives.

    In an email sent to employees in February and obtained by Minnesota Reformer, HealthPartners told its workers that the added health care costs were a way to encourage employees to make more cost-effective choices.

    For example, HealthPartners says they want to “encourage use of the appropriate level of care by adding modest copays for higher cost settings, like urgent care, emergency rooms and hospital outpatient services.”

    They also added costs to the pricier “choice” plan to nudge more employees into the lower-cost “classic” plan, which currently covers two-thirds of employees.

    In the email, HealthPartners addressed two points often made by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota workers: that the $7 billion non-profit is seeing record-high revenue and its CEO receives more than $2 million in compensation.

    “Andrea’s compensation is consistent with other CEOs of nonprofit health care organizations in our market,” the email read. “We take the same market-pricing approach to all jobs in the organization.”

    The two sides must also reach an agreement on two other tough issues: wage increases and overtime pay.

    HealthPartners is proposing 2% raises each year for two years and a 1.5% raise the third year. Health care workers want slightly higher raises.

    Workers also want overtime to begin after 37.5 compensated hours in a week. HealthPartners is proposing beginning overtime pay after 40 working hours, so sick days and other paid time off wouldn’t count when determining overtime.

    Max Nesterak
    Max Nesterak is a reporter for the Reformer focusing on labor and housing. Most recently he was associate producer for MPR’s Morning Edition after a stint at National Public Radio. He also co-founded the behavioralscientist.org and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.