Sunday, September 9, 2012

Essentia Health Cheating its Workers

Essentia Health is far and away the largest employer in the region.  And despite being formally a non-profit institution, it generates an enormous amount of revenue.  It is constantly expanding, constantly renovating its facilities and constantly handsomely rewarding those in its leadership positions.  But what it is not doing is offering its workers a fair piece of the pie.

Essentia Health is locked into bitter contract negotiations with its largest union, United Steelworkers Local 9460.  Three years ago, during the last set of contract negotiations, Essentia demanded a three year wage freeze, citing the tight economy and the need for everyone to make sacrifices.  The union agreed, only for Essentia to turn around and spend millions on expansion and renovations.  Obviously Essentia wasn't too short on cash after all.  And now the company is AGAIN demanding concessions from the union!

Essentia's most recent proposal calls for the union to accept a two tier health care package, where part-time workers would be asked to pay a dramatically higher percentage of the premiums (25% for single coverage, and 40% for family coverage).  On top of this they don't want there to be any kind of cap on the health care premiums.  For wages, they're offering a mere 1% raise for the first year of the contract, and no set raises for the second or third year.  Instead they're offering a "me too" agreement, where if the company gives a raise or a bonus to non-union workers, it'll give the same to union members.  It wouldn't be obliged to give anyone ANY raise though.  The last time the union agreed to a "me too" arrangement the company first dragged its feet, and then accidentally gave many of the workers too big of a bonus, which they then took back, after many had already spent it!

Enough is enough!  Essentia Health talks a lot about its values and being a positive force in the community, but its unbridled greed it obvious to all when it comes to its outrageous treatment of its hard working workforce.  Workers are being forced to do more and more work for the same, stagnant pay levels.  Where is the justice?

Fortunately the union is determined to make a stand and to demand better of a company that is certainly able to do so.  Workers are being urged to show their solidarity with the union's negotiating committee by wearing black every Wednesday.  And friends and supporters in the community are urged to stay tune for how they too can help make Essentia do the right thing, for once.  If we stand up and first back we can and will get a fair contract!

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