MINNEAPOLIS – Mental health workers from MHealth Fairview and Allina Health who are members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa announced once again they are being pushed to strike as they continue to struggle to reach a fair agreement on a first contract for these frontline, essential workers.
The workers held a one-day ULP strike in May during Mental Health Awareness month. Following three more months where workers haven’t seen progress to address the issues they are facing, the group voted with 98% support in the last week to authorize a ULP strike if needed. The group would have to file a 10-day notice before any strike. The news comes ahead of the Labor Day weekend and follows 15,000 nurses with the Minnesota Nurses Association who recently announced strike action at various hospitals around the metro.
Dana Disbrow, a psychiatric associate at MHealth Fairview for six years, shared why she is ready to strike to win a fair first contract for mental health workers:
"We are ready to strike because we are facing dangerous staffing levels and it feels like no one in power cares. There is a huge mental health crisis in our country and you never know when you or your family may need help. The current staffing situation is a nightmare and we are fighting for a fair contract that finally addresses these concerns," said Disbrow. "We're fighting because this work is our calling, but too many of us are getting hurt at work. Frontline workers can only take so much before we lose good people, which is happening far too often. That hurts everyone. We are ready to do whatever it takes to win what we need for ourselves and our patients."
Kellie Benson, a Senior Mental Health Coordinator for nearly 5 years at Allina Abbott Northwestern hospital, shared why this issue is so important to so many people in the state:
“The longer our employers dismiss the significant concerns raised by staff working face-to-face with patients in mental healthcare, the harder it will be to heal, not only for those experiencing mental health crises, but for our entire community. The trauma of COVID-19 sustained by communities across the globe is becoming more and more embedded in society,” said Benson. “Employers and companies who dismiss our concerns are the only ones with the power to change the situation. Our patients are incredible humans who deserve to have the best care possible in times of crisis.”
“When turnover is so high that we do not have enough providers or staff to have a fully functioning, safe unit for patients to come to, then it is time these employers step up to fulfill their mission in providing the best patient care and truly valuing their staff. We have been bargaining and doing our best to make movement towards our first contract,” Benson continued. “We have been met with barrier after barrier, whether that's not having enough sessions scheduled to bargain or being told for the umpteenth time, “Not Interested.” We think the employer should be much more interested when it comes to creating a work environment that promotes retention, safe and effective patient care, and respect through a fair first contract."
Despite a growing crisis for patients and workers leaving the field, both MHealth Fairview and Allina Health have refused to reach a fair agreement for a first contract that would respect workers & patients in increasingly difficult circumstances to ensure stability for this essential industry. Workers have faced increased safety issues inside the building as well as recent threats of gun violence in the last two weeks at both locations, adding to their stress.
Amanda Reasor, a Senior Mental Health Coordinator at Allina Unity Hospital for four years, shared why this fight is so important for mental health workers:
"We asked our colleagues for the ability to call a strike to show that we will fight for a fair contract together. For me, a fair contract looks like a good wage, wholistic benefits that aren't subject to change at Allina's whim, and a safer workplace. We face many challenging and risky situations every shift. We want to be able to have the resources we need to cope with the constant stress that we are under and have guidelines that further protect us from harm,” said Reasor. “We are asking to be seen and to be treated like the professionals we are. We have been at the bargaining table for several months now, going back and forth with our managers and Allina's attorney. These are people who are supposed to have our best interests in mind, but seemingly don't care about our quality of life. We demand a fair contract now."
The Union and management have three dates at MHealth and two dates at Allina scheduled in September, but many issues remain to be solved, especially at Allina.
The group includes over 400 workers between the two organizations. At MHealth Fairview they work as Pysch Associates, Senior Psych Associates and Behavioral Assistants and at Allina Abbott Northwestern and Unity Hospitals they work as Senior Mental Health Coordinators. The workers voted to join SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa in late 2021.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa represents healthcare and long term care workers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care