Walker Workers are Thrilled to Regain a Unified, Stronger Voice

Savitree Shrivbaran and Diane Shults, part of Walker's housekeeping staff, say workers pretty quickly realized "we wanted our union back."
Savitree Shrivbaran and Diane Shults, part of Walker's housekeeping staff, say workers pretty quickly realized "we wanted our union back."

Housekeeping staff at Walker Methodist in Minneapolis are excited to have won back their AFSCME union.

They lost it by a few votes during a decertification election initiated by Walker management, which took place when many workers were sick or on vacation. Then they had to watch as their counterparts at Walker,   AFSCME members in other departments, won a great contract that didn’t include them.

“Pretty quickly, people started realizing we wanted our union back,” says worker Savitree Shrivbaran.

“Things weren’t going well,” says worker Diane Shults. “We said OK, we’ve got to do something.”

But the housekeeping staff was stuck without their union for a year due to a rule requiring a waiting period before members could vote again. When that deadline passed, the housekeeping staff organized another vote within just a few months. In July, they overwhelmingly approved bringing back their voice in the workplace and the protections union membership provides.

To win their membership in AFSCME Local 3532, organizers had to talk to a lot of co-workers and overcome some misconceptions.  Although the housekeeping staff works at Walker, they’re employed by Healthcare Services Group. Shults says some workers mistakenly thought HCSG would automatically pass along the same raises and benefits won by their union counterparts employed by Walker.  That didn’t happen.

“Some of the people who originally voted no to having a union, they changed their minds,” Shults says. “Things were happening. Management was cutting people out of their jobs, making people short-staffed. We’re supposed to have two housekeepers to a floor, we only had one. Laundry got short. People were retiring and they didn’t replace them.”

Part of the problem workers faced was that HCSG was following Walker policies, including a punitive attendance policy.  AFSCME successfully disputed that policy for members, but HCSG kept following the Walker policy for its non-union housekeeping staff. There were mounting issues with pay, overtime, scheduling and vacation.

When workers voted overwhelmingly to bring back their union, Shrivbaran and Shults weren’t surprised, but they were pleased by how large the margin was. They say the process has made workers more unified, and they’ll be stronger going into negotiations. The benefits they hope to win include pay on par with the industry, seniority rights in scheduling and assignments, and vacation rights.

Between them, Shrivbaran and Shults have worked at Walker for nearly 50 years. They care about what they do.

“I like helping take care of people,” Shults says.

“It’s about the residents, making it better for them, seeing them happy,” Shrivbaran adds. “They tell you thank you, they appreciate what you do.”