Hospital workers rally for union continuance

Joel Sawyer

A handful of University Hospital workers protested the planned merger between University Hospital and Fairview Health System on Monday by handing out leaflets in front of Fairview Riverside Medical Center criticizing the move.
Protesters said the merger would be a bad deal for union-represented hospital workers. If the merger goes through, some employees at University Hospital would lose union backing in bargaining for wages, hours and working conditions at Fairview.
“We want people to see that there’s a dark side to this merger,” said Martha Dyer, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 1164 member and admissions interviewer at University Hospital.
University and Fairview officials have repeatedly said the merger is good for the University and Twin Cities health care. Merger planners say the merger will strengthen the research and education mission of the University’s health care schools and hospital by increasing its patient base with Fairview patients.
Jeff Hahn, a hospital worker and AFSCME member who helped organize the protest, said Fairview officials are trying to break up the AFSCME and Teamsters unions representing more than 1,000 University workers.
“This is basically a union-busting campaign on the part of Fairview,” he said. AFSCME and Teamsters members want to maintain their unions on the University campus, but Fairview has other plans. University workers will officially become Fairview employees when the merger takes effect January 1, and the destiny of the unions ultimately lies with Fairview.
In a July 25 letter to AFSCME representatives, Sheryl Erickson, vice president of human resources for Fairview Health System, said State and Federal labor law prohibits Fairview from recognizing AFSCME and the Teamsters as unions. Fairview employees in positions equivalent to University union members already are represented by the Service Employees International Union. The laws do not allow workers with similar jobs to be represented by more than one union, Erickson said.
Without union representation, Hahn said, “Fairview can basically dictate the terms of our employment without our input.”
Peter Brenner, executive director of AFSCME council 6, agrees with Hahn. There is no reason for Fairview not to recognize the unions, Brenner said. He added that there is ample precedent in mergers of public and private institutions to recognize unions from both organizations. “It’s happened any number of times now already in the hospital industry,” he said.
Brenner cited the recent merger of Boston City Hospital, a public institution, with the Boston University Medical Center, a private organization. Brenner said that recognition of the unions by both hospitals was a precondition of the sale of the Boston City Hospital to Boston University Medical Center.
If Fairview fails to voluntarily recognize the union, Brenner said, AFSCME may file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. This could force Fairview to negotiate with AFSCME.
Cindy Hagen, a University Hospital instrument processing technician, said that under the merger Fairview would inherit the reputation, prestige and goodwill of the University Hospital for “next to nothing.” Fairview has agreed to pay the University $87.5 million for $150.3 million in hospital assets that protestors said were paid for with public money.
Hahn said he was concerned the merger was just another step toward putting the power of health care in the hands of fewer providers. The danger of this kind of monopolization, he said, is that it dictates the kinds of procedures that are offered to patients and restricts patients’ choice.
Concerned citizens and hospital workers will continue to protest the merger all week, Hahn said. “We want Fairview management to know we’re not going to take this laying down.”