The Potluck

Mental health workers reach tentative deal at Fairview as strike continues at Allina

By: - October 4, 2022 2:54 pm

Brian McIntosh, a psych associate at M Health Fairview, speaks at a rally during a 24-hour strike by mental health workers at three Twin Cities hospitals on May 24, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The union representing about 350 mental health workers at M Health Fairview announced a tentative agreement on a first labor agreement on Monday, a year after workers voted to unionize with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

While workers at M Health Fairview hammered out a deal, more than 130 mental health workers at Allina hospitals launched a three-day strike on Monday. Workers at both health systems unionized around the same time and went on strike together for one day earlier this year.

Under the 18-month contract with M Health Fairview, which must be approved by union members, psych associates and behavioral assistants will receive an immediate pay increase of 6% on average, with an additional 2.75% raise in March, according to the union. Workers will also get more paid time off and have a clear grievance process to address their concerns.

“Because of our efforts, we reached the best deal possible for our important work and I am proud of what we accomplished,” said Jenny Webster, a psych associate at M Health Fairview, in a statement.

Psych associates and behavioral assistants have four-year degrees, but their wages lag behind those with similar education backgrounds in healthcare. New psych associates at M Health Fairview currently start at around $21 an hour. That would increase to nearly $23 an hour in March, under the tentative agreement.

Workplace safety was a major sticking point in negotiations because mental health workers are among the most likely to be physically assaulted on the job. However, absent from the agreement are some key safety provisions that workers called for, such as a process for screening patients for weapons and higher staffing levels.

The tentative agreement does include new safety policies including a committee to address issues with one-on-one patient assignments, the right for workers to refuse working with a patient that has previously been violent toward them if staffing allows and new peer-to-peer support counseling.

A spokeswoman for M Health Fairview shared a statement saying they were pleased to reach a tentative agreement after months of negotiations.

“With the help of a skilled federal mediator, we were able to find common ground that is equitable across the team, is sustainable for our organization and keeps the focus where it should be: on our patients,” the statement said.

Mental health workers at Allina will be on strike through Wednesday.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, 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.