Health care employees will have an opportunity next week to vote for or against establishing a union at Brainerd Medical Center.
The United Steelworkers of America filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for the vote, which is set on the afternoon of Dec. 5. About 187 employees could be affected by the vote at BMC, which typically affects hourly employees and not ones in supervisory roles.
Before the vote, both management and union representatives are making their cases to employees.
In Brainerd, union organizer Curtis Reed said the Steelworkers became involved after being contacted by employees. Reed said employees had a wide variety of concerns, including a concern about wages. After being contacted by BMC employees, Reed said the Steelworkers initially conducted a small phone survey to see if more employees had concerns. The results prompted additional contacts leading to the coming vote, Reed said.
Employee concerns about health care worker pay is not unique to Brainerd, Reed said, adding the concern stretches statewide. He said the Steelworkers union is the fastest growing union for health care workers in the state. The Steelworkers spearhead a coalition of unions lobbying the Legislature on health care issues.
"The majority of people did not feel like they were treated badly in the Brainerd facility," Reed said. "Most people are satisfied with the facility."
Today, Curt Nielsen, BMC administrator, said he was constrained from talking about the vote because of legal requirements and he declined to go into greater detail.
"We believe our physicians and employees are better off to have the relation we have with them now," Nielsen said.
Reed said BMC employees he talked to were concerned about job security, work environment and general staffing. While BMC has expanded, Reed said the facility has contributed to the community but some of the workers' concerns may have been overlooked.
Reed said if employees decide to unionize the intention is to make BMC a better place with employees having a voice in the process.
If a union is approved by employees, a committee would be formed with workers and a negotiating team elected. Steelworkers staff would meet with the negotiating team to assist them. Finally collective bargaining would begin with management. Employees would then vote on a contract. Reed said it is at that time the employees become Steelworkers. The Steelworkers union represents health care workers in Wadena and Little Falls. In Brainerd, the union represents employees with North Ambulance and Woodland Good Samaritan Center nursing home.
The NLRB, an independent federal agency created in 1935 to enforce the National Labor Relations Act, requires a minimum of 30 percent of employees sign cards or signature sheets indicating an interest in forming a union. Reed said the Steelworkers requires a majority of employees to sign cards in order to file the petition for the vote.
But Reed said no one is certain what the outcome of a vote will be.
"At any union election, anything can happen," Reed said.
The vote is set from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 5 with a count expected soon after the poll closes. The NLRB conducts secret-ballot elections to determine whether employees want union representation.
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