SEIU health care workers headed for strike vote with HealthPartners

    HealthPartners Bloomington
    Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

    Hundreds of nurses, lab technicians, dental hygienists and other health care workers are headed toward a strike vote this week after failing to reach an agreement about their health coverage with their employer HealthPartners. 

    HealthPartners and the negotiating team for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota worked late into the night on Friday, with their previous contract expiring at midnight without a new deal. 

    With no more negotiations in sight, 1,800 workers are scheduled to vote Thursday on a strike. If approved as expected, workers at over 30 locations in more than 80 different health care occupations will walk off the job for a week starting February 19. 

    “The feeling overall is that people are ready to do what it takes to keep our healthcare where it is and where it has been for decades,” said Katy Leiviska, an advanced dental therapist and member of union’s negotiating team. 

    Leiviska and her SEIU-represented colleagues currently receive a generous healthcare package, which for most employees includes no monthly premiums and very low co-pays for prescriptions and medical visits. 

    HealthPartners proposed increases that could double or triple its employees’ annual out-of-pocket health care expenses, according to the union. HealthPartners made significant changes to their proposed cost increases in the final week of negotiations, backing down from increases in some co-pays and a $100 monthly health care premium for spouses. 

    Still, union representatives say their position is no concessions on their health care.  

    “We work really hard for (our health care),” Leiviska said. “We help make them the $7 billion company that they are. If we start making these major concessions now, where are we going to be at the next (contract negotiation)?” 

    Two other sticking points for HealthPartners and its health care workers are wage increases and overtime wages, which they’ll have to reach an agreement on for the next three-year contract. 

    HealthPartners declined to comment on the stand-off, writing in an email only, “We remain committed to returning to the bargaining table in the days ahead as we continue to work to reach agreement on a new contract that’s fair to our SEIU-represented colleagues.” 

    SEIU-represented healthcare workers could be joined on the picket line by more than 1,200 of their co-workers represented by two other unions: the janitorial and security staff with SEIU 26 and the administrative workers with OPEIU 12, who are not required to cross a picket line.  

    HealthPartners’ contract with its OPEIU-represented administrative employees expires later this year, which means whatever happens with this negotiation has implications for them. 

    Max Nesterak
    Max Nesterak is a reporter for the Reformer focusing on urban policy, economics and labor. 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.