CentraCare picket

 Essential workers at CentraCare – Monticello have gone from the frontline to the picket line.

Frontline support staff, hospital technicians and nurses at the local hospital and nursing home headed to the picket line beginning Wednesday, Aug. 12 in support of efforts to receive what they consider a fair contract. They picketed for six days, ending on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

CentraCare – Monticello is operating as usual and continues to provide the care our community depends on. The picketing will not impact our ability to care for patients and residents, CentraCare-Monticello officials said in a statement.

After reaching tentative agreements on most of their proposals prior to the mid0March state shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, management changed course and rejected the basic workplace changes that Local 1898 members have earned. Union Representative Rafael Espinosa said CentraCare reached a contract agreement with the registered nurses days before the shutdown. Espinosa also said that historically, the support staff, hospital technicians, ambulance drivers and nurses receive a similar contract. But management halted negotiations and pulled a wage increase off the table because of COVID-19, he said.

Espinosa says Local 1898 understand that CentraCare has lost money due to COVID-19. He says union representatives have seen financial records that also suggest that CentraCare is recovering.

Members have been without a contract since January 1st of this year. Many of the union’s proposals would address contract language that is over two decades old. Despite efforts by Local 1898 members to proactively negotiate a new contract 11 months ago, in September 2019, CentraCare-Monticello management has made it difficult to schedule negotiating sessions, and now wants to delay negotiations until sometime next year, according to Local 1898 officials.

“Our members have gone from being heroes to feeling like zeros,” Espinosa said.

Already many experienced staff such as EMS workers are leaving the facility for higher paying opportunities elsewhere, according to Union officials.

Already many experienced staff such as EMS workers are leaving the facility for higher paying opportunities elsewhere.  

That’s a shame, Espinosa says, because the ambulance personnel has been working through the worst days of the pandemic.

They were the first to show up, and were among the first to be confronted with the threat to get the coronavirus, he said.

According to a statement issued by Local 1898, “Members of Local 1898 are not doctors, CEOs, or other high-level administrators, they do not make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, our modest proposed wage increases cover the cost of family expenses, not extravagant luxuries. We cannot afford to be left behind in this millionaire’s economy.”

Espinosa said he and Local 1898 members have been encouraged by the community support shown by people passing by the informational picket on Broadway Street in Monticello near CentraCare Monticello’s facilities.

“There has been a lot of support from people who see the important work that our members do,” Espinosa said.

Local 1898 members will continue to try to negotiate in good faith with management despite their evasive efforts, Union officials said.

CentraCare – Monticello began negotiating with AFSCME in December for a collective bargaining agreement that was set to expire at the end of the calendar year. After eight negotiation sessions, AFSCME and CentraCare – Monticello have not reached an agreement, CentraCare-Monticello officials stated.

The next mediation date is scheduled for Thursday August 20.

CentraCare – Monticello hopes to resolve things with AFSCME soon and remains committed to continuing the dialogue to reach an agreement.

Reach Jeff Hage at jeff.hage@ecm-inc.com


Jeff Hage is the managing editor of the Monticello Times. He majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

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