Maintenance workers at the Albert Lea Medical Center have been negotiating a new contract with Mayo Clinic for more than a year, without an agreement.
The sticking point: Mayo wants the right to change their benefits -- everything related to paid time off, vacation time, holidays, pension, health insurance, jury duty -- whenever it wants to without the union getting involved. Which kind of defeats the whole point of an agreement.
In return, Mayo has offered meager raises, which amount to just 10 cents more an hour for those with at least 20 years of experience working for the company, and eight cents more for everyone else. It's less than what they've offered to non-union employees.
Workers refused to agree to those terms, and Mayo refused to budge on its demands. Their current contract expired November 30, after more than a dozen negotiation standoffs and two days of picketing outside the medical center.
The Service Employees International Union filed a complaint on behalf of the maintenance workers with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union rights. In October two workers with decades of experience testified in Washington D.C. about the deadlock in negotiations.
Last week the Board vindicated SEIU, ruling that Mayo had indeed violated the National Labor Relations Act by “failing to bargain in good faith” when it insisted that workers waive their bargaining rights over benefits.
If Mayo doesn’t take heed and start working with the union, the National Labor Relations Board would take the case to an administrative law judge.
"For 18 months we've had these same proposals thrown at us, and it's a testament to the workers of Albert Lea that they've just said, 'No, we're not going to give up our bargaining rights, and it's illegal for you to ask that of us,'" says Jamie Gulley, union president. "[Mayo] can want to do anything they want, like that's their proposal. And the workers have said, 'That's a terrible deal.'"
This summer SEIU, which also represents the workers who prepare hospital meals, filed a separate complaint against Mayo Clinic for outsourcing hundreds of food service jobs to Morrison Healthcare, a Georgia-based company. That complaint, which is still pending, alleges that Mayo’s food administrator at the time gave the contract to Morrison because of a “long-standing personal relationship” with one of Morrison’s executives.