“Those who give care have no support” – People’s World

Mental health workers strike in Minnesota: 'Those who provide care have no support'

Jigme Augen, SEIU’s executive vice president, joins mental health workers in the picket line after Allina’s CEO threatened to call the police over striking workers. | Rebecca Berra / People’s World

MINNEAPOLIS — Mental health workers represented by the Service Employees International in Minneapolis and Friedley, Minnesota, began a three-day strike last week after the chiefs of Allina Health refused to negotiate a first contract that would include safe employment, adequate health care benefits, and basic workplace protections. and fair wages during a period of hyperinflation and the continuing spread of the epidemic.

Recently unionized psychiatrists, behavioral assistants, and other mental health professionals at two Allina Hospitals, Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis and the Mercy Hospital Unit Campus in Friedley, are the caregivers in Most dangerous environments In the hospital system, they often face physical assault on the job and frequent exposure to other forms of violence in the workplace, such as threats of guns and constant verbal abuse.

Jigme Augen, who works locally at SEIU, attended a picket line in Minneapolis this week. “Mental health workers are traumatized on the job while also having to keep patients and hospitals safe.” Augen explained how a patient recently at Allina Health Clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota, brandished a gun while receiving treatment by mental health workers.

Despite suggestions by the SEIU that hospital chiefs implement safety measures to ensure mental health workers are protected, some of which include protecting pregnant workers from precarious situations, screening patients for weapons before entering the facility, and increasing levels of safe staffing, Allina’s chiefs refused.

“Patients who go through withdrawals and traumatic experiences themselves,” Ogen explains, need to be treated with dignity, and in order to do so, frontline workers responsible for helping patients recover from precarious work environments must be protected in an unsettling manner. High rates of violence. “People who give care have no support.”

On the afternoon of Wednesday, October 5, after nearly three days on the picket line, mental health professionals walked into the office of Allina CEO, Lisa Shannon, to ask her to come down from her office to meet them. Instead of responding to the workers’ demands, she threatened to call the police about the striking workers.

This isn’t the first time mental health care providers have been forced to strike. After voting to join a union a year ago with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa, workers were forced to quitting job in may After hospital officials refused to negotiate in good faith. According to workers, this was a direct result of the healthcare giant’s use of stalling tactics in order to avoid compromising with newly unionized mental health professionals.

On Monday, October 3, Senior Mental Health Coordinator Kelly Benson noted during a press conference on the first day of the strike, “It’s been a long year and a long battle. We keep coming to the table and Alina keeps coming with nothing for us.” As a result of Alina’s procrastination, union members voted 98% to allow the strike this week.

The demands of essential Minnesota workers for safe employment and mental health support are not limited to SEIU workers. Over the past year, Minneapolis has seen its nurses and teachers quit, citing serious staff shortages, chronic overwork, low wages and a lack of mental health resources as major causes.

A month ago, 15,000 Minnesota nursessome from the same Alina Hospitals, hit the bricks in the country’s largest private nursing strike, demanding hospital chiefs allow nurses to participate in decision-making about employment and safe working conditions.

In March 2022, Minneapolis teachers and educational support professionals They set up a picket line for a month to demand safe staffing in the form of smaller classes and enough mental health professionals in each school.

Allina’s corporate health system’s refusal to negotiate to protect its most vulnerable workers has resulted in an extremely high turnover rate, only contributing to problems associated with unsafe staffing levels. Ogen noted that Alina currently has approximately 40 vacant mental health positions that are still open.

There has been a significant increase in the need for mental health workers and services during the pandemic. One in five adults and one in six children will live with A disease Mental health diagnosis. Despite these statistics, Allina’s bosses have consistently opposed providing sick leave and benefits to workers affected at work and have refused to negotiate safe employment levels to prevent workplace violence. “Mental health touches everyone, regardless of race, gender or affiliation,” Augen said. “That’s why we ask them to respect us, to protect us, and to pay us.”


Rebecca Berra

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