Unionized health care workers at HealthPartners on Thursday will decide whether to strike over a proposed increase to their health insurance premiums and copays.
During negotiation discussions late last week, HealthPartners management and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota came to a stalemate over the costs of employee health benefits. SEIU represents about 1,800 frontline healthcare workers at HealthPartners. That includes nurses, nurse practitioners, midwives, and dental assistants at more than 30 HealthPartners locations.
HealthPartners and the union had been negotiating for four months. On Friday, discussions lasted 14 hours, stretching into early Saturday morning, according to SEIU. The union’s current contract with HealthPartners expired Feb. 1
“Because of management’s continued insistence on taking away healthcare from frontline staff, the SEIU bargaining team are calling for a vote to authorize a seven-day Unfair Labor Practices strike,” the union said in an online post on Monday.
At issue is the cost of health insurance premiums and copays. Under HealthPartners’ proposed concessions, the cost of regular office visits would grow from $10 to $40 for workers covered under the “Choice Plan.” The cost of emergency room visits would grow from $40 to $150 for the same set of workers.
For employees on the “Classic Plan,” office visits would remain free following a regular health assessment. However, the cost of ER visits would grow to $75. Meanwhile, premiums would increase for all “Choice” employees. For a full-time worker covered under choice, monthly premiums would rise from $60 to $80.
HealthPartners management has also proposed changes to overtime pay. Under the new proposal, workers would only qualify for overtime pay if they worked more than 40 hours in a calendar week. Previously, employees could qualify for overtime pay after working 37.5 hours in a week, or more than 7.5 hours in a single day.
“Your bargaining team felt disrespected and insulted by management’s lack of recognition for our members, throughout this bargaining process,” SEIU leaders said in a Feb. 1 update to members. “Every dollar in concessions on health benefits they win is a dollar taken from you and applied to the corporate bottom line.”
For at least 12 years, health insurance premiums and copays have remained the same for SEIU members.
SEIU members will vote on the strike on Thursday. The union would still need to provide a 10-day warning before initiating a strike, even if it’s approved this week.
HealthPartners leaders say they’re “committed to returning to the bargaining table in the days ahead.”
“We’re proposing a set of modifications that would support better health and encourage our colleagues to get care in high-quality, more affordable settings,” HealthPartners said in a statement. “We feel that these are fair and reasonable modifications, especially given the financial headwinds facing the health care industry, including our organization.”
In 2018, HealthPartners’ net income dropped 16 percent to $146.5 million, even as the organization reported $7 billion in revenue for the year, according to the Star Tribune.
HealthPartners leaders maintain that SEIU workers have “market-leading benefits.”
“That will continue even with our proposal,” they added.