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After 1-day strike, Health Systems Cooperative Laundries workers and management reach agreement
After months of contract negotiations, things were not happening for the roughly 200 laborers at Health Systems Cooperative Laundries, which cleans all the linens for 19 area hospitals and over 150 clinics.
The previous contract had run out in late March, and in the renewal process, the union was faced with a gutted version of the previous contract, said Julie Boots.
Boots manages the contract for the union, Worker's United Local 150. Management was proposing cutting the four sick days laborers were entitled to, as well as removing employees' rights should the company change hands, Boots said. In total there were 150 proposed language changes which were largely rejected by the union, she said.
A "last, best and final offer" was put forth by the company on July 24, which was by and large rejected by the laborers.
So around 12:30 p.m. on Monday, the first shift of workers, who'd been there since 6 a.m., walked off the shift to strike. Around 3 p.m., the second shift workers joined them. In all, around 200 workers were on strike, which was the majority of the total workforce. Many of the workers are immigrants, including East Siders of Hmong and Latino origin.
Boots said the union derived no pleasure from the protest.
"We don't want to be out here any more than the company wants us out here," she said during the strike.
The laborers picketed throughout the day and well into darkness at the former Hamm's Brewery site on the north side of Minnehaha Avenue. Some of the second shift employees stayed until their shift ended at 11 p.m.
Around midnight, a deal had been reached after a full day of mediation between the union, the company and a federally assigned mediator. The mediation meeting had been scheduled the previous week, according to management at the linen company.
Boots said the negotiations went favorably for the union.
"Pretty much everything the workers had demanded, they received," Boots said. A tentative agreement is in place to be voted on by the union in coming days.
Doug Seaton, a lawyer for the company, said the strike “was not a necessary one."
“We were disappointed that (the strike) was undertaken," he said, adding that “the process would have worked its way out regardless."
Nonetheless, he called the conclusion “a happy ending.”
“We've got an agreement," he said.
Several temp workers were brought in throughout the day, Boots said, but she speculated it was just a fraction of the laborers normally working a shift. In addition, she said around ten union workers chose to keep working.
Seaton said the company had temp workers lined up in case of strike. He said though they had not received warning about the strike, they had heard threats of a strike from the union.
Seaton said the temporary workers meant that there was no interruption of service to the hospitals and clinics. The linen arrived on time, he said.
Boots said she'd seen at least a couple of trucks that were delayed in shipping out clean linen as of 6 p.m.
Orquidae Cruz worked first shift at the plant on Monday starting at 6 a.m., and stayed until after 6 p.m. to strike with her co-workers. She's been working at the linens place for five years, she said.
As a single mother, she was concerned about losing the four sick days the previous contract allotted.
"Everybody here has a kid," she added.
Boots and other union organizers were back at the plant at 5 a.m. Tuesday to welcome the laborers back to work, she said.
Workers said they get paid around $13 an hour at the facility and often work in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
One worker described the job as "so/so" but added that without the provisions of the contract, it would have been worse.
The company moved into the facility in 2004. They'd been operating out of two separate facilities -- one in Minneapolis, and one on the East Side -- and had been looking to relocate over in Wisconsin. To keep them here, the city provided incentives to keep the company within the Twin Cities.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.