May 21, 2024

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Minneapolis mental health workers speak out during one-day strike: “Staffing issues have become worse”

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Picketing mental health workers Jordan (left) and Mamie (right) at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis on May 24, 2022 [Photo: WSWS]

On Tuesday, more than 400 mental health workers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, carried out a one-day strike at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota and two Allina Health hospitals, Abbott Northwestern and Mercy Hospital-Unity Campus. The workers are fighting against problems which are endemic throughout the for-profit US health care system: gross understaffing, substandard pay and benefits and dangerous working conditions.

“One issue that we confront a lot on the job is threats to our safety,” Jordan, a mental health worker at Abbott Northwestern, told WSWS reporters on the picket line Tuesday. Jordan pointed to the heightened dangers facing mental health workers brought about by the social crisis facing the population, saying, “We experience violence in the workplace often from patients, and incidents of violence are increasing.”

“My unit was converted into a COVID unit,” she continued. “We actually merged our unit with COVID patients. We now see our patients and COVID patients. Because of this, staffing issues have become worse. Sometimes we are left to deal with 24 patients. We’re supposed to have two of us to 24 patients, but there are some situations where we are left without another mental health professional.

“COVID has definitely affected the health of my patients. For one, we’re seeing more patients with more severe cases.”

The walkout in Minneapolis is part of a growing wave of working class struggles across the US and internationally. In recent weeks, a movement has emerged among nurses and health care workers in particular, demanding better pay, better staffing ratios and humane working conditions.

Five thousand nurses at Stanford Health Care in California struck at the end of last month, 2,000 Cedars-Sinai hospital workers in Los Angeles carried out a five-day strike the week of May 9, and 350 nurses and hospital techs began a walkout Monday this week in Newark, New Jersey’s St. Michael’s Medical Center. Meanwhile, 10,000 nurses in New Zealand carried out a one-day strike on May 16.

While there is a growing determination to fight among health care workers and a widespread feeling that conditions have become intolerable, the unions have been working to block or contain strikes and impose contracts which leave the status quo in place.

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