Hospital laundry workers reach tentative contract

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 6, 2013 - 8:30 PM

About 240 employees at St. Paul hospital laundry returned to work after negotiators reached a deal with aid of federal mediators.

Striking laundry workers in St. Paul returned to their jobs early Tuesday after reaching a tentative agreement with Health Systems Cooperative Laundries, union and company officials confirmed Tuesday.

The new labor agreement, reached with the help of federal mediators, means that 240 employees resume work one day after abruptly walking off the job to protest proposed changes to their sick-day benefits and a policy that dealt with emergency leave.

The strike, which began early Monday afternoon, left managers inside the laundry facility in St. Paul scrambling to get work done.

The tentative agreement means that hospitals such as Fairview Hospitals, Hennepin County Medical Center, Allina Health Systems and Park Nicollet don’t have to worry about where their sterilized bed linens will come from. Each of the hospitals belongs to the laundry coop, which washes hospital sheets and other hospital linens in a central facility in St. Paul.

“The update is that we reached a tentative agreement with the company last night around midnight and that the workers will vote on the contract on Wednesday,” said Julie Boots, area director of Workers United Local 150. “We regained the things that the company wanted to take away. They did finally come off of those things. And so our members are back to work this morning and they are very pleased with the outcome.”

Many of the laundry company’s employees are Hmong, Latino and Somali immigrants.

Doug Seaton with the legal firm Seaton, Peters & Revnew, which bargained for Health Systems Cooperative Laundries, said Tuesday that the strike did not sway negotiations.

“Despite this really ill-advised and unnecessary strike, we were able to reach agreement. It is resolved. That was [always] the plan for that day,” he said.

“We were planning to meet [with federal mediators] and do our best to break the impasse after 12 meetings.”

Workers received a wage increase, will continue to receive health care benefits and will continue to contribute 10 percent to health-care premium costs, Seaton said.

He also said that the workers’ sick days were never actually being terminated. Instead, he said, the company was combining vacation and sick days into a paid-time-off format, with the same number of days allotted to workers as in the previous contract.

He declined to discuss other changes in the contract, but said that the intent was never to reduce benefits, but to “clarify when they were to be taken.”

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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