Workers rally, launch billboard calling on Gundersen to invest more in employees

Front-line workers at La Crosse, Wis.-based Gundersen Health System and community supporters held a rally and launched a mobile billboard Jan. 17, calling on executives to "respect and invest in healthcare heroes for quality care," according to the union that represents them

Service Employees International Union Healthcare Wisconsin said the action was in response to Gundersen executives' "last and final offer" during union contract negotiations, which workers rejected. 

During negotiations, Gundersen workers are seeking fair wages that align with the cost of living, which they contend the health system can afford but has not provided. Union leaders also cited the burnout and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion workers are experiencing, as well as workers' concerns about staffing and turnover. 

"In the labor and delivery department where I work, we're responsible for ensuring our mothers and babies have an environment that is thoroughly disinfected, sanitized, safe and clean. It's a great honor to be able to help and protect our patients, and I take deep pride in my work," Jill King, an environmental assistant who has 23 years of service at Gundersen Medical Center, said in a news release. "But it's become much harder to do our jobs because of severe understaffing made worse by low wages, and COVID has aggravated these conditions."

In a statement shared with Becker's, Gundersen expressed gratitude for union employees' contribution to the care and experience provided for patients, families and co-workers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Union employees are entitled to collectively bargain, and Gundersen will continue to honor and respect that right," the health system said. "As always, Gundersen's goal is to be equitable and objective in efforts to negotiate a new labor agreement. We are confident in the fairness of our contract offers to the union and in the compassion shown to all Gundersen staff."

SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin represents about 425 certified nursing assistants and workers in environmental services, dietary, laundry, maintenance, logistics and other vital jobs at Gundersen Medical Center — along with about 50 paramedics and emergency medical technicians at Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance. In addition to the rally and mobile billboard, Gundersen workers have also launched a website expressing their views.  

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