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Mental health workers at three Minneapolis hospitals strike for first contract

By staff |
May 25, 2022
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Brian Mcintosh speaking to fellow strikers and supporters
Brian Mcintosh speaking to fellow strikers and supporters (Photo by Brad Sigal)

Minneapolis, MN - At 6 a.m. Tuesday, May 24, mental health workers at three Minneapolis area hospitals walked off the job and went on a one-day strike. All three groups of workers organized and formed unions with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa (SEIU HCMN&IA) since September of 2021. Now they are fighting for their first contracts. They decided to do a joint one-day strike to show management that they are serious and united and will fight to win real improvements in their first union contract.

Strike lines were up at three hospitals including Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Unity Hospital, which are part of the Allina Health system, and Fairview Riverside, which is part of the M Health Fairview system. The largest of the three groups are around 350 psych associates and psych aides at Fairview Riverside. At Abbott Northwestern and Unity Hospitals the groups involved included around 120 mental health coordinators. Picket lines were up at all three hospitals from 6 to 11 a.m.

Then at noon the SEIU HCMN&IA members from all three locations converged on Fairview Riverside where they picketed together and held a rally along with holding a barbeque to music played by one of the workers who is a DJ. The event was lively and energetic with loud chanting and high spirits all around.

According to Brian Mcintosh, who is one of the striking Fairview Riverside psych techs, some of the union members’ demands include raises. Mcintosh says that there are people working there who have been there for over 20 years who have not gotten over $25 an hour but now they are having to train new people who are getting paid around that rate without the long-term workers getting raises for their longevity. He said that they would like better employee retention. He said they want a pension, a good wage and a better chance to support their families after everything they have to deal with at work.

Mcintosh was one of the first workers to start talking to his coworkers about forming a union. He said that the union drive started in the basement of his (now deceased) friend’s house. After a series of particularly horrible shifts, they decided it was finally time to do something about it so they started looking at unions to join and decided that SEIU HCMN&IA was the right fit for them.

SEIU HCMN&IA already represented over 1000 workers in the M Health Fairview System with many of those workers located at Fairview Riverside. They started meeting with organizers at the Global Market in Minneapolis and talked to their coworkers, built an organizing committee and eventually got more than 65% of their coworkers to sign cards, filed for a union election and won overwhelmingly. Then they began negotiating their first contract.

After months of bargaining without management listening, they decided to go on this one-day strike to show management that they are serious. Before the strike, the workers held a series of actions including a march on the boss as well as delivering a cake decorated with a petition printed on the cake in frosting with the signatures of their coworkers demanding a good contract. When those things weren’t enough, they took a strike vote and walked off the job.

Mcintosh said, “There’s many reasons why we are on strike today. Let’s start with health and safety. We just had some testimonies of one of our staff members having some cracked ribs from work and they had to use their PTO when they were out with the cracked ribs because they are in between two patients. We had another story where a staff member was fighting her husband in the middle of the night in her sleep because of PTSD from patients attacking her. We have one of the most assaulted jobs in America, per state records.”

Mcintosh continued, “All we are asking for is simple health and safety to get better and for us to have an economic chance to fill our gas tanks and our refrigerators and come to work.” He went on to say, “We’ve got to keep on fighting until we get what we want! If we don’t get what we want we are going to shut it down just like we did today. That’s our message to them, that’s our message to us, and we aren’t going to get anything unless we work hard and fight for it.”

The mental health workers at all three hospitals say they plan to go forward and continue bargaining and keep building up their fight from here until they win what they deserve.