Mayo Clinic's Albert Lea hospital union, management locked in labor standoff
Unionized employees at Mayo Clinic's Albert Lea hospital in Minnesota and hospital management are locked in a labor dispute that will leave about 80 employees out of work for a week.
After a union protest on Dec. 19, Mayo replaced the 79 nursing assistants, housekeepers, sterile processing, and utilities and materials management positions with temporary workers on seven-day contracts to maintain adequate patient care. While the six maintenance workers whose daily roles were filled internally went back to work the day after the strike, the other employees will not able to return to work until Dec. 26.
Mayo said it notified the Service Employees International Union, which represents 85 Albert Lea employees, about the seven-day replacement contracts prior to the strike.
"This makes me mad, sad and frustrated," Charlotte Nelson-Schocker, who has worked at Mayo Clinic for 28 years in materials management, said in a statement. "We have given so much to Mayo, and now that we stood up for what is right for workers and our community, management has chosen to lock us out over Christmas."
The dispute arose over union employee benefits and contested language in their contracts. SEIU claims the language "would allow the company to make unilateral changes to workers' benefits, wages and working conditions." Mayo argues that its employees are not losing any of their benefits, rather, the company is trying to standardize benefit packages across its staff. But employees are worried that the current contract wording provides minimal protection and leaves the door open for future changes.
Mayo maintains that the SEIU-orchestrated strike is a bargaining tactic aimed at securing better terms in their upcoming contract negotiations on Dec. 28.
"We are especially disappointed that the union would call a strike now, since SEIU, which composes the majority of the impacted workers, didn't even ask us for a bargaining session between May 2017 and just recently," Mayo Clinic said in a statement.
The SEIU contends that Mayo should negotiate any changes to employee benefit packages separately with the union, rather than make changes across the board without its input. The union said that Mayo is proposing a sentence in every benefit provision that allows them to "be amended from time to time," which SEIU described as a "permanent waiver" of its bargaining rights.
The standoff fuels continued backlash from the Albert Lea community since Mayo decided to cut services at the hospital and transfer them to its Austin, Minn., campus.
Mayo announced June 12 that it would transfer inpatient services at Albert Lea involving overnight hospitalization for illness or major surgeries, the intensive-care unit, and childbirth to its Austin campus, about 23 miles away. In return, Mayo is moving the inpatient psychiatric services unit from Austin to Albert Lea.
Mayo executives have said that it is no longer feasible to duplicate some of its most complex and expensive healthcare services in neighboring communities given the financial struggles community providers face.
But Albert Lea residents said the area economy would not be able to sustain the cuts from one of its biggest employers and the 1,000-plus jobs it provides. Patients have had to travel longer distances to receive care and the quality of life and healthcare have both suffered, leaders of the Save Our Hospital organization said.
"They are capitalizing on the challenges of rural healthcare rather than trying to solve the problem," said Jennifer Vogt-Erickson, vice chair of public relations for Save Our Hospital, adding that Mayo has the financial resources to invest in the hospital. "If they chose to take on the challenges rather than remove services, they could."
Mayo said that it is still providing health benefits to the employees who are not working.
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