Content Sponsored By AFSCME Council 5
After a long contentious struggle to form a union, workers at Walker Methodist Health Center are fighting management again to keep their union — and at the same time try to negotiate for a living wage. A rare employer-initiated election to decertify the union will likely happen sometime in December.
“The boss is trying to take away all the rights that the workers have right now,” said Jennifer Mundt, Public Affairs Director, AFSCME Council 5, as she walked an information picket outside Walker’s long-term health care facility in south Minneapolis. “When we finally got a contract, the employer has been trying to renege on everything that protects the workers and their contract.”
The first union contract at Walker Methodist Health Center wasn’t easy. In 2003, the National Labor Relations Board had to intercede before management would agree to recognize the union.
“They organized and won an election and it took us six years to get this anti-union employer to get a first contract,” said Eliot Seide, AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director. “And now a decade later, this employer is still fighting the union. It still wants to break the union.”
A Sunday rally outside of Walker to support the union drew a crowd of about about 50 Walker union employees and members of other unions. Congressman Keith Ellison sent a letter of support that was read at the rally.
It’s extremely rare to have an employer-initiated election to decertify a union. NLRB statistics show only 14 elections happened nationwide in 2014. The NLRB says Walker submitted an RM Petition to decertify the union in June offering evidence that a majority of employees no longer supported the union. Union organizers say that’s not true.
“The employees gave management a petition with an overwhelming majority of the workers said stop this decertification. And the employer refused to do it,” said Seide.
The union was able to delay the decertification vote when it filed an NLRB complaint saying Walker had interfered with the union’s right of access to the workplace. The NLRB found the union’s complaint had merit and ordered Walker to comply with its union contract and allow access. NLRB Regional Director for Region 18 Marlin Osthus says that assuming Walker is found to be in compliance, the decertification election will probably happen in mid-December.
The pending election comes just as the union and management are scheduled to begin negotiating new contracts.
Living Wage Issue For New Contract
Gaybaril Lightfoot has worked at Walker for 20 years and is the AFSCME Local 3532 President. She says Walker needs to start paying a living wage to its hourly employees.
Under the current contract, union workers got two 1% pay increases in 2013, but nothing since then. One of the 1% increases was paid for by a Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) from the State of Minnesota. In 2014 the legislature approved giving continuing care providers such as Walker about an additional 5% in state funding with the stipulation that at least 80% of that increase would go to increase wages and compensation-related costs for eligible employees. Those costs can include the employer’s portion of health insurance, pensions and employee recruitment expenses.
Union leaders say Walker needs to now uphold its end of the bargain with the state. “They got money from the legislature to pay for workers’ wages and they’re trying to put it in their own pockets. That’s unacceptable,” said Seide.
“There’s a wage disparity all across the board here at Walker. No one is really getting paid what they’re worth here,” said Lightfoot.