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Updated: Mayo Clinic institutes post-strike lock-out as wrangling continues over contracts

Mayo Clinic said it gave union multiple warnings that if there was a strike, the minimum contract for temporary workers would mean a lock-out.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Alberta Lea Clinic Credit: Mayo ClinicAlberta Lea Clinic Credit: Mayo Clinic

Following a recent one-day strike the Mayo Clinic's Albert Lea, Minnesota community care facility, certain Service Employee International Union employees found themselves locked out of work when they arrived Wednesday morning.

Roughly 80 SEIU staff members who work as certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, sterile processors, utilities and materials management employees are affected and will not be allowed to return to work for seven days, including Christmas, both the Mayo Clinic and SEIU confirmed.

Workers at Albert Lea Hospital, some of whom have been without a contract for over two years, voted December 7 to strike. Notice of intention to strike was given days later.

The union has two contracts with this particular Mayo location, one for maintenance workers that involves six employees, and an SEIU general contract that includes nursing assistants and those in sterile processing, housekeeping, supply chain management and linen services. That contract involves 75-80 employees, Mayo spokesperson Ginger Plumbo said.

The maintenance contract expired in October 2015. The general contract expired November 2016, Plumbo said.

It is the general contract workers that were locked out because they had to be replaced by temporary workers during the strike. Mayo said they notified the union employees or leadership several times that they would be forced to hire temporary replacement workers, and the industry standard minimum contract for these workers is one week. They told union if they strike for one day, they'd be out of work for a week.

"The decision for the strike and subsequent lost wages rests squarely on the union's shoulders," the spokesperson said.

No replacement workers had to be hired for maintenance contract employees so those workers who struck were allowed back in.

"This makes me mad, sad and frustrated. We have given so much to Mayo, and now that we stood up for what is right for workers and our community, management has chosen to lock us out over Christmas," said Charlotte Nelson-Schocker, who has worked at Mayo Clinic for 28 years doing materials management. "I can't believe it has come to this..."

A key issue is Mayo's desire to standardize benefits for its 64,000 employees throughout the country. SEIU wants to negotiate separately and opposes the standardization. The dispute over benefits fueled the walk-out earlier this week.

The union has also spoken out against the elimination of intensive care unit, inpatient, and birthing services from the Albert Lea campus, which the union said were moved to Mayo's Austin, Minnesota campus this fall, more than 20 miles away.

Plumbo said Mayo has met with the union's bargaining team anytime they have requested, but no meetings have been requested regarding the general contract since May. One is now scheduled for December 28.

SEIU countered with a different take, saying there was a mutual decision in May to hold off bargaining while waiting for the labor law judge's decision. Once a ruling came down, they said they proposed multiple dates but Mayo did not accept any of them. 

That September ruling from the National Labor Relations Board struck down a complaint filed by the union, finding that Mayo was bargaining in good faith and union claims that they were not, had no merit.

SEIU countered that there were multiple rulings on the court case, with the last judge saying Mayo's bargaining approached the line but didn't cross into illegal. "We disagree with the decision, but instead of appealing and kicking the can down the road, workers decided to vote on the 1-day strike," SEIU explained.

Mayo has since filed its own complaint with the NLRB in November, saying SEIU had reneged on some terms for a new maintenance contract that had previously been agreed upon. Mayo's complaint alleges "regressive bargaining and bargaining in bad faith," Plumbo said.

The union countered again, accusing Mayo of the same. "Skilled maintenance workers bargained on Nov. 13th & Dec. 4th and Mayo continued to demand all or nothing and took a step backwards on wages, showing they had no real interest in bargaining."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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