U workers divided on rejoining former union

by Jennifer Niemela

Former University Hospital workers, now at Fairview-University Medical Center, gave the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees a split decision in balloting last week.
Two of the three employee units voting in Wednesday and Thursday’s election decided to rejoin the federation, which was the workers’ former union before the University-Fairview hospital merger in January.
Service employees formerly affiliated with AFSCME Local 6, the largest unit of workers, voted 413-297 to rejoin the union. Skilled maintenance workers who had been represented by the federation’s Local 70 voted 30-6 for AFSCME’s return as their collective bargaining agent.
But technical workers from Local 6 split with their former AFSCME colleagues, voting 155-110 against returning to union representation. In all three elections, a simple majority was required to determine the outcome.
The Minnesota Daily, on Friday, erroneously reported that all three units had voted to rejoin the union.
“We are pleased that our employees in the technical unit have chosen to give us the opportunity to work directly with them,” Fairview-University Senior Vice President Peter Rapp said in a press release after the election.
The hospital workers’ union was dissolved when the former University Hospital was privatized in its merger with Fairview Health Systems. Fairview could have allowed the collective bargaining units, which included more than 1,300 workers, to continue under its management. The company instead opted not to recognize the union.
“This is a fresh start,” said nursing assistant Robert K. Elliott. “We lost the technical unit … but this is a restoration of justice. (Fairview) did everything in their power to try to stop this.”
Some union activists had alleged union-busting by Fairview during the course of the campaign. Because Fairview is a private company and not a public institution like the University, federal rather than state labor laws governed the election. The main limitation on Fairview’s actions was a prohibition against holding mandatory anti-union meetings within 24 hours of the vote, said Richard R. Anderson, acting director of the National Labor Relations Board.
At previous union votes on campus, which were governed by state laws, status quo orders were issued to prevent management interference in the election.
Fairview had issued pamphlets and fliers encouraging employees to vote against the union, including one release indirectly comparing AFSCME to the German Nazi party. Fairview also granted a 3 percent cost-of-living raise just weeks before the election. Union activists had called these practices “obvious ploys” to convince employees to vote against the union.
However, some employees felt that Fairview’s campaign tactics weren’t intended to bust the union.
“I think it’s a coincidence” that the cost-of-living increase was implemented before the election, said laundry employee Kent Herbst. “It seems like (Fairview) looks out for the needs of the employee.”