When All Else Fails

Unions Out for Blood at the Red Cross – Time for a Hostage Negotiator?

by Liberty Chick

As one Change to Win labor union blocks a Red Cross blood delivery today, what will a health care system taken hostage by labor unions look like tomorrow?

redcross-teamsters1As Change to Win’s Anna Burger is leading her coalition of unions to lobby all around the country “until every man, woman and child has quality, affordable care they can count on,” one of her unions is busy blocking the delivery of a Red Cross blood donation to a hospital and picketing private companies’ blood drives.

The Red Cross, which has union workers in various locations who are covered both by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and SEIU, says union leaders are trying to disrupt the Red Cross Blood Services operations by going on strike.

That’s right.  At a time of year when blood donations are at their lowest levels and are the most urgently needed, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, SEIU’s sister union and member of Burger’sChange to Win labor coalition, took advantage of the opportunity to go on strike on December 4th against the American Red Cross Blood Services Penn-Jersey Region.  Local 929  initiated the strike at midnight just as their contract expired.  Hours later, the Red Cross was forced to take legal action when some strikers illegally blocked one blood delivery in particular

“the Red Cross says it had to inform union members that a two-year-old child’s life depended on our blood delivery before they would allow a Red Cross vehicle to exit the yard to get the necessary blood products to the hospital.”

In the Penn-Jersey region alone, the Red Cross provides blood to over 100 hospitals. This incident forced the Red Cross to seek a court injunction against the union, which it won from the court later the same day.

The Red Cross says it is currently in negotiations with union leaders over a pay raise for union workers who package and deliver blood to hospitals, provide assistance at blood drives and help maintain their facility.  While the agency struggles during this economic slump, it has been forced to temporarily suspend merit raises for its non-union staff, as are so many other businesses and non-profit organizations.  This has become the primary sticking point in negotiations with the union, which will not agree to the freeze.

“We are simply asking union employees to make the same sacrifices that their non-union colleagues have already made,” said Anthony Tornetta, Communications Manager for the Red Cross Penn-Jersey Blood Region. “Their refusal to do so remains a significant issue in these negotiations.”

The Teamsters have insisted that the issue is one of working conditions and pay, charging the Red Cross engages in unfair labor practices that endanger the safety of the workers and the blood products they deliver.  Union leaders accuse the Red Cross of caring more about boosting profits than worker safety, complaining of consecutive workdays without a day off in between. However, the Red Cross maintains that the negotiation issue is one of pay and not safety, indicating that there have been no unfair labor practice complaints filed by the local Teamsters union regarding these negotiations.  The union is also demanding a pay increase while non-union workers are under a wage freeze until June 30, 2010.  Outside the negotiating table, picketers are telling passersby and media that the working conditions are causing safety issues for donors and staff. But as the Red Cross indicated, the union’s behavior is in stark contrast with this claim, pointing out that blocking critical blood deliveries has potentially endangered patient safety, a concern with which the court has agreed.

While the average American will agree that workers at any organization, including the Red Cross, should be treated fairly and labor practices should keep them and the products they deliver safe, what’s been called into question by the general public is the contrast with non-union workers’ concessions, the very ill timing of the strike, and the tactics being employed.  Citizens are questioning the sincerity and broader motives of the executive union leaders at the very top.

Not only was picketing not limited to Philadelphia, it wasn’t even limited to the Red Cross. The Teamsters took their fight over to other unrelated private businesses conducting their own blood drives. Unbeknownst to the employees at Mannington Mills in South Jersey, striking Teamsters caught wind of their planned blood drive in advance and showed up to picket along the route to their company.  According to the Today’s Sunbeam paper, Mannington Spokeswoman Betsy Amoroso said the blood drive went on as scheduled with many Mannington employees taking part, adding that employees realize the importance of donating blood this time of year when supplies tend to traditionally be lower because of the holidays.

Here’s why this story is an important piece of a larger picture. Consider for a moment the following:

When we have a union disgruntled over a pay freeze that has resorted to blocking a blood donation delivery, on its way to save the life of a 2-year old child, from reaching a hospital, we have a problem.  When we have unions that control the majority of health care, home care, nursing home care, child care, pharmacy, radiology, and public workers in this country, we will have a catastrophe.

I predict hostage negotiation may become next year’s new hot job. Let’s hope it’s not unionized.