The Potluck

M Health Fairview psychiatric workers voting on unionization

By: - September 28, 2021 3:18 pm

Erin McCormick, a psychiatric associate with M Health Fairview, spoke in favor of unionizing during a news conference Sept. 28, 2021.

Federal labor officials are counting votes Tuesday to determine whether 350 mental health workers in the M Health Fairview system will join a Minnesota health care union.

Concerns about safety and lack of input in managerial decisions motivated workers to organize, employees said during a press conference Tuesday. If a majority of mental health workers vote “yes,” they’ll join an existing unit of 4,000 M Health Fairview workers as part of the Service Employees International Union-Healthcare Minnesota.

Erin McCormick, a psychiatric associate, said she feels managers don’t take seriously the risk of injuries to staff and patients. The COVID-19 pandemic and limited supply of personal protective equipment exacerbated safety concerns, she said. 

“The safety of our staff and patients has and always will be our top priority. We’ve worked collaboratively with our nurses, doctors, security and safety personnel and other support staff to invest in new workplace safety initiatives to identify and address gaps, and implement fast-changing best practices,” M Health Fairview said in a statement to the Reformer.

Nationally, there are about 125 injuries per 10,000 employees of psychiatric and substance abuse hospital workers — 12 times higher than the injury rate for health care workers, and 60 times the rate for workers overall.

McCormick said she felt her job threatened her health and the health of her baby at times when she was pregnant, including an instance in which a patient tried to punch her in the belly. It took over a month for supervisors to agree to accommodations, McCormick said.

Psychiatric associate Eric Immler said union supporters hope for a bigger say in decisions around staffing levels and caseload sizes. Giving frontline staff more time to help individual patients through difficult experiences can aid their recovery and prevent escalation, he said.

“We’ve never felt like a part of the decision-making team, including the staffing levels or policy changes that directly impact us. I think having a unified voice will get us to the table,” said senior psychiatric associate Andrea Rivas. 

SEIU officials said election results will be available by the end of the day Tuesday.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.