DEER RIVER, MINN --Healthcare workers employed by Essentia Health Deer River in northern Minnesota have voted to authorize an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike starting Monday, February 7th if the bargaining team is unable to reach a tentative agreement with management. The two sides have bargained 9 times since September and the union filed a 10-day notice last week after the last round of talks fell apart. A supermajority of members voted to reject the employer’s proposals and authorize a five-day ULP strike that would start Monday, February 7th at 8 a.m. and run until Friday, February 11th if no agreement is reached.
Chuck Davis, a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota on the bargaining team who has worked in maintenance at Essentia Deer River for 7 years, spoke about the need for action:
"I voted yes to strike because so many of my co-workers are grossly underpaid. Someone could go into town and get a job at a gas station making more than you get paid to take care of our neighbors and friends. We need our wages to go up because we need the best people helping our patients and we need to make sure we are recognizing and valuing the amazing people we have who are so good at their job," said Davis. "The people who come through our doors deserve the best. We need to keep the wealth of knowledge we have and bring in more people to help make sure the aging community gets the quality healthcare they deserve. We are tired of COVID, but we're also tired of being unappreciated by those in charge. If we don't see change, many are ready to walk out the door. To make sure our community gets the care we deserve, we can't afford to lose any more workers. We're ready to strike to push Essentia to do what is right."
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents around 70 healthcare workers at Essentia Deer River who are employed as Nutrition Services Assistant, Activity Aide, Laundry Worker, EVS technician, Home Health Aide, Sterile Processing Technician, Cook, Nursing Assistant, LPN, Health Unit Coordinator, Phlebotomist, maintenance, floor care tech, Medical Lab Tech, Surge Tech, Medical Technologist and Radiology Technicians.
Janelle Denny, a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota who has worked in Environmental Services at Essentia Deer River for 3 years, shared her thoughts on the potential strike:
"I moved to this area three years ago and I love what I do at Essentia Health. We have a great team and a great hospital, but we need to get more people to help address the staffing shortage. But right now Essentia isn't paying enough to get people in the door and keep the amazing staff they have. I'm struggling to understand how chain stores are paying more and we're fighting just to get to $15 minimum wage when we are caring for our people and our community. Everyone here is compassionate about what we do and have gone through so much taking care of our community members throughout this pandemic, and it's time for Essentia Health to take care of the people who are doing this essential work," said Denny. "I love this community and want what's best. I know I can go somewhere else and make more money, but I love what I do, my co-workers, supervisors and the people we take care of every day. I feel we deserve more from Essentia Health. $13 is just not enough. In the last year my department is down 50% of our usual number of workers and I've worked as many as 14 days in a row. Healthcare workers are burned out. We're willing to strike to make sure Essentia Health steps up and respects us, protects and pays us."
The top issues holding up an agreement are the need for higher wages for these essential jobs, respecting the longevity of staff and increasing shift differentials to make sure Essentia Deer River continues to recruit and retain the right people to provide high-quality care for patients in the Deer River area.
Kristi Giffen, a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and her union's bargaining team who has been a Cook at Essentia Deer River for almost 11 years, shared her reason for taking this vote:
"We are ready to strike to win wages that will make sure we get people in the door to help with our low staffing levels. Throughout COVID I've worked as many as 10 days in a row, often double shifts. It isn't healthy for us as workers and it means we are stressed and exhausted when trying to provide the best care for our residents and patients. I have hundreds of hours of PTO, but have no one who could cover my shifts," said Giffen. "Other clinics in the area have raised wages and if we're going to keep the good people we have and bring in new workers to help, we need change. The worker shortage caused by low pay is causing huge burnout issues for those of us who have worked throughout COVID. We've already lost good people and I worry we'll lose more if we don't see real gains to recognize the work we do to help our community. I voted to strike because we need management to recognize that something needs to change and we need them to take action NOW."
The two sides plan to go back to the bargaining table Wednesday.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents healthcare and long term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care across Minnesota