A dozen Petoskey based blood collection workers joined hundreds of others from around the state and region today, Wednesday, as they walked off the job.
Last week, 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 of a work stoppage beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, if the union and Red Cross couldn’t come to an agreement or have not started good faith bargaining.
The two sides are at odds over staffing issues and unfair labor practices. An agreement has already been reached regarding health care benefits.
Charles Terry, a union service representative for OPEIU Local 459, met with strikers in Petoskey Wednesday morning to offer support.
“Going on strike is a very difficult thing for these workers to do, but we have staffing concerns and that makes safety issues even more magnified,” Terry said.
Lynne Meade, president of Teamsters Local 580, told the News-Review Wednesday that recent meetings between union and Red Cross leaders in recent days ended with no agreement.
“I thought we were making progress, we really wanted to keep negotiations going,” Meade said. “Negotiations were cut off and at this point we aren’t scheduled to meet again until Saturday, Sept. 17, but we have said that we are willing to meet at any time, any place.”
Meade added that the strike could last a couple weeks.
Twelve workers walked the picket line at 9 a.m. Wednesday, outside the Red Cross building in Petoskey.
Among them, Kathy Peterson, a donor technician from Petoskey.
“We’re striking because there are still several issues that we want addressed,” Peterson said. “We’ve been working without a contract for nearly three years and we feel this is not something we want to do, but we want what is fair.”
While the strike does not impact disaster services here in Northern Michigan 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.
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.
“We’re very disappointed, and we are just going to monitor on a daily basis how many blood drives we can hold and how many need to be rescheduled,” said Monica Stoneking, communications manager for the Great Lakes Region of the American Red Cross.
Stoneking added that while talks are still going on behind the scenes, the next official meeting between union and Red Cross leaders and moderators isn’t scheduled until Saturday, Sept. 17.
“Hopefully we will have an agreement before the 17th, but at this point we’re going to monitor the situation,” Stoneking said.
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.
Reezie DeVet, president and CEO of Northern Michigan Regional Health System said the hospital has also prepared in anticipation of the strike.
In recent days, the hospital increased its supply of blood products to avoid any delays if the strike were to occur.
The hospital will also work with alternative providers, other than the Red Cross.