‘Still Very Far Apart’: Negotiations Grind on with Unionized HealthPartners Workers

‘Still Very Far Apart’: Negotiations Grind on with Unionized HealthPartners Workers

On Monday, the health system and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota met for a last-ditch effort to strike a deal.

Eleventh-hour negotiations between HealthPartners management and the health system’s unionized workforce continued on Monday. If the parties can’t reach an agreement, about 1,800 workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota are slated to strike Wednesday.

A federal mediator has been called to help the two sides reach an agreement.

As of Monday afternoon, the two parties haven’t come any closer to reaching an agreement. Unionized workers voted to authorize the strike earlier this month.

“We are still very far apart,” said Kate Lynch, VP of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. “We will be here as long as it takes, but if we can’t reach a deal, we are unified and ready to strike Wednesday morning to win what we deserve.”

Health insurance benefits and wages are the main sticking points for workers. HealthPartners leaders have proposed increasing co-pays and premiums for unionized workers. With low-cost office visits and no deductibles, SEIU’s current agreement is a relative rarity among larger organizations, the Minnesota Reformer reported.

Speaking outside the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service’s office in Northeast Minneapolis, Lynch said there have been “small movements here and there,” but no major compromises had been reached.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents workers in more than 80 positions, including nurses, physician assistants, and dental hygienists.

In an online statement, HealthPartners officials said they have “detailed plans in place” to continue providing care if the strike happens.

“Please be assured that a potential strike will not affect many of our locations, such as our Park Nicollet clinics,” they said. “It also does not affect our hospitals and several of our specialty care locations, such as TRIA. Our 24/7 online clinic, virtuwell.com, will remain open.”

If the strike goes through on Wednesday, it would be the first for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota workers at HealthPartners.

In 2016, more than 4,000 nurses at Allina hospitals went on strike for several weeks over changes to their health insurance benefits. The health system then hired replacement workers while the unionized nurses walked off the job. The nurses union eventually accepted Allina’s proposed changes to health insurance benefits.