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Red Cross workers from Michigan, Ohio demand health care

By Tom Burke |
May 4, 2012
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Red Cross workers on picket line
Red Cross workers on picket line (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Muskegon, MI - Workers at Red Cross in Michigan and Ohio have been on strike since March 30, after a clash with management over health care for themselves and others. Workers in other Midwest states are considering a strike over health care and related unfair labor practices by Red Cross bosses too. With public safety in mind, it is important to know the workers are not striking the local Red Cross Chapters and still cover emergency events.

While Michigan union workers are outside on the street, struggling to preserve good health care for themselves and others, inside the corporate offices, Red Cross bosses are demanding union workers give up their right to bargain over health care. This follows five years without a raise and cost cutting flexibility on the part of the health care workers. The union members have been working without a contract for four years now. Red Cross is attempting to impose a “catastrophic” high deductible plan that covers only extreme health situations, not routine care needs.

Cindy Krieger, a union steward with the Office and Professional Employees International Union - OPEIU Local 459 in Muskegon, Michigan - spoke on the picket line with a dozen other workers supporting her, “We hope for a fair health care plan. We understand health care is changing but we want to maintain the right to bargain over it. We offered a plan that would save $1.5 million dollars a year and management denied it. Red Cross refuses to set a date for negotiations or to bargain in good faith.”

Red Cross bosses are forcing a pattern of bargaining that put 11 out of 18 groups on strike prior to getting health care. Most gave up their bargaining rights to obtain their health care. Smaller groups, some with only two people, were forced to knuckle under. The current battle involves over 160 striking workers in OPEIU alone. Red Cross is fighting with other workers too, Teamsters Local 580 in Michigan, Teamsters in Cleveland, and UFCW in Toledo.

According to the OPEIU leaflet, the federal government found the same Red Cross bosses guilty in 2011 of refusing to provide information for negotiations, imposing a “no fault” attendance policy, changing and eliminating retired workers health insurance and 401K savings plans without bargaining, and moving work out of state. Another trial will repeat some of the charges and also deal with the repression and punishment of union stewards and activists for standing up for themselves and the health of the public. Red Cross is out to make the union voiceless.

Besides health care for themselves, the union members from OPEIU are fighting for standards in the blood bank industry. OPEIU Local 459 members at Red Cross last had a contract in 2008. It was extended in 2009, and then nothing. Now Red Cross bosses are attempting to negotiate lower standards with fewer staff. Bosses are moving to eliminate the requirement for a registered nurse to be on every blood drive. Bosses at Red Cross are ready to take risks that health professionals are not. In the economy of the 1%, even health care workers are forced to beg for health care.