Differences over employee health benefits could send hundreds of Red Cross nurses and blood collection workers to the picket lines next week. The strike would not impact the Northern Lower Michigan chapter in Petoskey.
While the strike would not impact disaster services here at home or nationally, it could disrupt several blood drives on or before Sept. 11, including the state’s largest blood drive, the annual Spirit of America blood drive at Michigan International Speedway.
“It is unconscionable and irresponsible that labor leaders would engage in this strike in an attempt to put pressure on negotiations without regard to the impact this may have on hospital patients who depend on lifesaving blood,” said Sharon Jaska, CEO of the Great Lakes Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross, in a written statement.
Jaska went on to say, “It is disheartening that some union members would disrupt lifesaving blood donations on such a solemn day in our nation’s history by striking against the American Red Cross. This is especially true considering the significant role the Red Cross played in responding to the tragic event.”
The Lansing-based Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 459, along with the Teamsters Local 580 which represents 270 Red Cross nurses and blood collection staff in Michigan, sent notice to the American Red Cross that they may enact a work stoppage beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, if the union and Red Cross cannot come to an agreement or have not started good faith bargaining.
None of the disaster service unions have issued work stoppage notices.
Employees have been without a contract since April 2009 and the two sides are at a disagreement over health benefits.
The unions are refusing a contract offer that pays 90 percent of premiums and 80 percent for dependents, which non-union staff members receive. The unions say the Red Cross could find a better health care plan for employees.
“The Red Cross has always provided quality, affordable health care, but they are moving away from that to very poor quality, unaffordable health care,” said Lynne Meade, president of Teamsters Local 580.
Meade told the News-Review that while union members are willing to pay more for their health care packages, the quality of the coverage, which includes a higher deductible and higher out of pocket maximum, is a concern.
The Great Lakes Region, which covers all of Michigan except for Detroit, requires 700 blood donations each day to meet the needs of accident victims, cancer patients and children with blood disorders.
“A blood shortage is a real issue right now,” said Monica Stoneking, communications manager for the Great Lakes Region of the American Red Cross. “The timing is just really disappointing. We’re coming off our worst summer collection in a decade and with the aftermath of Irene, we already have two catastrophes to deal with and this would be a blow.”
“It’s our patients that will be affected,” she added.
Contingency plans are in place if a strike were to happen.
Stoneking said the Great Lakes Region of the Red Cross will call on other regions of the country to up their collections to help those in need. The region may also call in staff members from other areas of the country to hold blood drives.
Area hospitals are also taking precautions.
“In the event of a strike by the American Red Cross next week, we fully anticipate being able to fill blood product needs for our organization,” said Reezie DeVet, president and CEO of Northern Michigan Regional Health System. “We are planning to increase our supply of blood products in our blood bank early next week to avoid any delays should the strike occur. Additionally, we have alternative providers in the event there is a shortage from the Red Cross.”
The next round of talks were scheduled for 10 a.m., today, Thursday. Both federal and state mediators are involved in the discussions.
“I really hope there is a resolution, we’ve been working on this for more than two years now,” Meade said.
“There is hope that we can come to a resolution before Wednesday, Stoneking added. “We have really loyal donors and sponsors that want to donate blood and hold blood drives and the need is really there.”