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Does CEO Jon Pryor get it? 

Has his heart turned cold in single-minded pursuit of riches, or is he naive to the lives we live? Or a little of both?  

Like many AFSCME members, I took Hennepin Healthcare's mission to heart. The community entrusted us to provide high quality care to all people, regardless of social status - and we do that work well. 


It is a vital public good.     


Unfortunately, CEO Jon Pryor remains aloft. He's out of touch with conditions in our workplace, the jobs we perform, and how serious we are about securing a fair wage with good benefits. According to a recent Press Ganey survey, senior leadership at Hennepin Healthcare ranked worse than 93% of other organizations.  


Though I know many would disagree, I don't doubt Jon Pryor does useful work. I also believe he's a decent person and wants to do the right thing.  

Nickel and diming the lowest paid staff in the healthcare system is unfair to frontline staff, and bad organizational policy. I'm not on our negotiating team, but I agree with the decision to stand our ground. It would betray 2474 membership and our public mission to settle for big take-aways.   


AFSCME 2474 members are understaffed and underpaid. We face some of the most severe workplace violence in the country, and frequently improvise solutions where management has failed to provide adequate resources. 


I've devoted a big part of my life to HCMC. I love my coworkers and job (well, on most days :) I work with skill and integrity, as do 2474 members throughout the organization. And in nearly eight years of public service in Inpatient Psychiatry, I've been assaulted more than fifteen times. My maximum pay is $21.36/hour. CEO Jon Pryor earns more in three weeks than a full-time AFSCME member earns in a year, and he doesn't worry about getting a brain injury when he steps on the floor.  


When a very rich person like Dr. Pryor demands a 50% performance raise cut from front line staff, I wonder: Does he understand the consequence of his decision? Is he like a cold-hearted Executive in single-minded pursuit of profit, or is he naive to the lives we live? Or a little of both?  

I mean, does Dr. Pryor know that we often live month to month? AFSCME members struggle to pay bills. Many of us have little to no savings. We sometimes cry when the car breaks down. With the rising cost of everything, especially higher education, those of us with children worry for their future. Once-in-a-while, we like to go somewhere nice for vacation without household finances messing up the good time.     


I'm not sure. I don't think he gets working class life . . . I briefly crossed paths with Dr. Pryor - alright, it was a looong time ago - and I got the impression he might be that sort of guy, who just doesn't get it.  

Does he understand how important our labor is to the health system? We bring talent to our daily work and uplift patient experience. A bad contract that doesn't reflect the value of our labor is demoralizing. Bad contracts make it more difficult to retain and recruit quality staff and reduces quality of patient care.  


We know that . . . but does he? . . . He really might not get it - how personal it is, how painful those cuts will be in the lives of our members.  

In that case, it's our responsibility to stand up for ourselves and help him understand how the austerity contract he proposed affects us, and the patients we serve. Maybe once Dr. Pryor sees the damage his decision will do, his conscience will call, and he'll change his mind. Admittedly, it's a long shot – even people who just don't get it, sometimes just don't get it from a place of willful ignorance.  


Or he may simply be ruthless; a real possibility, though one the "Minnesota Nice" in me prefers not entertain. When faced with a person intent on doing you harm, completely unreasonable and unwilling to dialogue, when fleeing is not an option – after all, we love our jobs and do our jobs well - what choice is there, other than to rise to the occasion? We match his cold-hearted decision to cut our wages and benefits with an equal determination to defend our collective livelihoods. If not, we'll suffer a series of big take-aways, and the public will suffer reduced quality of care.  


Either way, we stand our ground. That's how I see it anyway. What do you think? How else can we make sense of Dr. Pryor - and the choice in front of us?   (to be continued . . . ) 


Part 2 

 Dr. Pryor not only wants to cut performance raises, he also wants to pay us a lower cost of living adjustment than MNA nurses, sun-set the HRA health plan, de-fund a long-standing dental plan, and forgo the customary retroactive pay upon contract settlement - all in the same year!  


Of all the threats I've endured as a Mental Health Worker, none has caused as much anguish as those that have come from Dr. Pryor and his executive team; if acted upon, these threats will substantially reduce our standard of living and ability to make ends meet.  


Given his huge bank account, Dr. Pryor might not understand how mean his actions appear from the perspective of people who don't have millions of dollars. The combination of losing thousands in wages annually from the performance raise cut and getting a costly dental plan (with lower payouts), will be stressful for member's who require dental care.  


When you live near the edge, watching your wage fall behind inflation is discouraging. It provokes anxiety.  That's something Dr. Pryor can't know, like really know, in the fiber of his being, as some of us do. I don't blame him. Once you're that rich, you might no longer get the meaning of "in it together" or "teamwork." I think that's part of it. But I don't know.  
I don't want to overgeneralize. Not all corporate executives attack unions as aggressively as Dr. Pryor does.    


In our last negotiating session, after failing to budge on anything, Labor Relations lawyer Emma Hixson suggested she would return to the administration to see if they could "pull a rabbit from the hat."  


We know Hennepin Healthcare finances are sound. Revenue is strong.  


Moreover, senior management just spent more than $220 million on a building and is spending huge sums to purchase ads rebranding the organization as Hennepin Healthcare. There is no financial crisis.  


The idea HCMC management needs to perform a magic trick to fund wages and benefits HCMC has funded for decades is a lie, plain and simple. I'm not sure who told the lie to whom first. I'm not even sure whether or not they believe the lie, either the person who told it or the person he or she told it too. Maybe senior management never believed the lie in the first place and the lie is more like a ruse than a lie, designed solely for public consumption, to pull a fast one on us. Whoever and however the idea was born that Hennepin Healthcare can't afford to pay our wages and benefits, it almost certainly happened in an office in Shapiro building, behind closed doors. To be honest, this whole "pull a rabbit from the hat" feels rude and condescending to me - and characteristic of senior leadership behavior with Dr. Pryor at the helm. 


Our livelihoods are on the line! Imagine if Dr. Pryor was a hard-working public servant and the tables were turned: We had control of the purse strings. He did his job well and came to us expecting the salary and benefits he was promised. Instead, we say: "We'll see if we can pull a rabbit from the hat." I think he would feel disrespected.    


However we got here, we know the truth: The funds that belong to us and ought to have been budgeted for our members - front line staff who produce a public good and revenue with our labor - will instead go to bloated senior management salaries, glass buildings, and ad campaigns.  


It's bad for us, bad for patients, bad for the public, and bad for the environment (okay, not sure about that last one, but it's bad for almost everybody.)  


Does Jon have a conscience? I don't know. Though we're certifying for an arbitrator to decide our contract, Dr. Pryor can call us back to the table and make a fair offer anytime. To be honest, I'm not sure we can change Dr. Pryor's mind; he's engaged in similar aggression toward other unions. He is rumored to have wrote his MBA thesis on union busting. We can at least match his ruthless choice to take-away with an equal - or even greater - determination to keep what's ours. It's part of America's long democratic tradition: Working-class people stand up for ourselves and don't go down without a fight. That's what makes our country great.   


Whether we stand up, or whimper quietly into arbitration (no value judgement, whimpering quietly has its place :), depends on member participation. We'll have meetings and other opportunities for feedback upcoming. If you aren't able to attend a meeting – or even if you are - freely contact union leadership to voice your opinions. The more we hear from you, the better.   


If you, Dr. Pryor, happen to read this, you might feel mildly offended. If so, I ask you, with all the respect you're due: What is more offensive and mean, finding yourself the subject of unflattering commentary aimed at improving workplace conditions, or an actual boss who is threatening to take thousands of dollars annually – we're talking real money - out of your paycheck?  


On the one hand, there is ego at stake. On the other, food on the table, education funds, retirement, and quality of patient care.  


We deserve the dignity of a fair contract.    

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