Red Cross Workers Join AFSCME

“Everyone is striving for the same thing, to save lives and collect blood,” says Ramzey Abu-Shanab, one of nearly 300 American Red Cross workers who are now part of AFSCME Council 5.
“Everyone is striving for the same thing, to save lives and collect blood,” says Ramzey Abu-Shanab, one of nearly 300 American Red Cross workers who are now part of AFSCME Council 5.

Nearly 300 workers with the American Red Cross in Minnesota and western Wisconsin have joined AFSCME Council 5 by an overwhelming vote.

The workers are involved in collecting blood across Minnesota and parts of Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. They include phlebotomists, mobile unit assistants who drive, couriers, supply materials coordinators and workers who prepare blood kits. They join AFSCME Local 3931 with their counterparts in the Red Cross lab and the equipment department, who already were members.

By unionizing, they hope to gain a more regular schedule and more say in the workplace.

“Now everybody’s together, and the vote was huge,” says Local 3931 president Theresa Johnson, who’s a biomedical equipment technician. “They won, and everybody’s really excited about our future. Our numbers are bigger, we have more power. I’m hoping the Red Cross is going to take us all more seriously.”

“we can finally put ourselves into the place we need to be to make it better, to make change, to have a voice, especially for a company we love,” says Nicholas Hellen, a collection specialist II who was among those leading the unionization drive. “We care about the donors, the blood supply.”

(From left to right) Michael Peterson, Nicholas Hellen, Samantha Attleson and Ramzey Abu-Shanab were among the Red Cross workers leading the local drive to join AFSCME.
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The vote to join AFSCME came after months of organizing by Council 5 and local Red Cross workers. Their efforts were part of a larger, national coalition between several unions and the American Red Cross that allowed workers to unionize while the Red Cross stayed neutral.

The local Red Cross workers started negotiations Tuesday, Dec. 20. They hope to focus on improving worker scheduling, safety, training and staffing levels. All sides hope to boost worker retention to save time and money on training, and help the Red Cross keep its dominant place in the field despite increasing competition.

The very nature of the job made unionizing a challenge. Many blood collection employees work in small crews that change from day to day with widely varying schedules.

Workers say they overcame those hurdles and had a highly successful drive because they relied on one-on-one conversations and good communication. Existing members of Local 3931 like president Johnson supported the drive, doing site visits, answering questions and introducing their co-workers in blood collection to organizers and each other. They embraced the idea of new members.

“It was a lot of grassroots efforts, individual people talking to people,” says Roy Nodsle, a collection technician III, a leader of the drive along with fellow Red Cross workers Michael Peterson, Nicholas Hellen, Samantha Attilson, Ramzey Abu-Shanab, Lisa Pesta, Susan Fuchs and Nicole Wamma.

Red Cross worker Ngoc (Kim) Vuong is a happy new AFSCME Local 3931 member.
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Along with all of their one-on-one conversations, workers helped design cards that allowed people to signal support, volunteer and confirm their top priorities for bargaining. Nodsle and several others also credited AFSCME organizers.

“This will be a positive thing,” Nodsle says. “It’s like anything else: I’m sure it won’t fix everything, at least not right away. It might be little steps, but at least it will be steps.”

From the start, workers – who uniformly talk about how deep their belief in their work is – were committed to partnering with the Red Cross to make the organization as successful as possible. They strongly believe that unionizing will give workers a voice and a platform to share their ideas and their dedication, benefitting the Red Cross, communities and families.

“What unionizing really did was get everybody agreeing on one thing and that was, I want to be a team and I want us all to get together,” says Ramzey Abu-Shanab, a collection specialist II and union leader. “Everyone is striving for the same thing, to save lives and collect blood.

“I love what I do and I want to continue loving what I do,” he adds. “I’ve gained a lot of knowledge working here at the Red Cross, and I want to continue to learn the way I did when I first started here. I think this is a good step in the right direction. If you want a change, you have to be willing to make the change.”

Moving forward, workers will face the same challenges building a strong union as they did while organizing: the fluctuating schedules and large geographic areas that workers cover for blood drives. But they’re up for it.

“We took the effort to do this, and now we have to get people involved because what makes a union is all of us,” says collection technician III and union leader Michael Peterson. “Our work schedule is such that you don’t have time for yourself. Now we have to make time to make this union as good as it can be.”