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Mental health workers call off strike at M Health Fairview, but not at Allina

Saint Paul Pioneer Press - 9/29/2022

Mental health workers at M Health Fairview who planned a three-day strike starting Monday will stay on the job while their union colleagues at Allina Health still plan to walk out.

A spokesman for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — Healthcare of Minnesota and Iowa said Thursday that 14 hours of negotiations on Wednesday made enough progress for M Health Fairview mental health workers that they decided to pull their strike notice.

“The bargaining team can and will refile the strike notice if needed, but are hopeful they are going to be able to reach a deal,” Brenda Hilbrich, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa executive vice president and lead negotiator said in a statement about talks with M Health Fairview leaders.

Meanwhile, Allina mental health workers plan to move forward with their work stoppage after union leaders said officials walked away from negotiations Tuesday and don’t have plans to meet again until October.

“The workers are dealing with unfair labor practices and are not close to a resolution,” Hilbrich’s statement said of talks with Allina leaders.

The union represents about 130 union mental health workers at M Health Fairview facilities and roughly 260 at Allina facilities.

“We remain committed to reaching a fair and equitable contract that honors our team members and our shared goals,” a M Health Fairview spokeswoman said in a statement.

When the mental health workers announced their intent to strike for three days beginning October 3, Allina officials responded they’ve offered competitive pay and benefits and workplace protections that other unions have already agreed to.

Mental health workers are pushing for better pay, increased staff and improved safety after voting to unionize in late 2021. They held a one-day strike in May to mark Mental Health Awareness month.

About 15,000 members of the Minnesota Nurses Association struck for three days earlier in September in what union leaders called the largest private sector nurses strike in history. Nurses are also pushing for better pay, more staff and improved safety protections.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a broad impact on health care workers with roughly one in five leaving their jobs. Studies show more are expected to leave if conditions don’t improve.

The pandemic has also hurt health systems with a recent report from the Minnesota Hospitals Association showing operating margins dropped to 1.2 percent in 2020 and 33 hospitals and health systems surveyed are losing money.

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