Health care workers with HealthPartners vote on strike as company seeks benefit changes

Voting was held throughout the day at union locations. (FOX 9)

Nearly 2,000 workers could soon be on strike at one of the largest health care providers in Minnesota.

Thursday, union members at HealthPartners voted on whether or not to walk off the job for seven days. Their contract expired on Friday and they were not able to come to an agreement, so now they're at this point.

According to the union, its the first time they've held a strike vote in nine years. There are 1,800 union members and, if they strike, it could impact this and some 30 other HealthPartners clinics.

The potential strike, representatives say, is over the health care benefits that members say they're happy with now. The biggest changes would come to their premiums and copays. Some of those adjustments would increase the cost of regular office visits by $30 and the cost of premiums could rise from $60 to $80.

Health care is not the only thing that would see changes under the new proposal. HealthPartners is also proposing changes to overtime. Right now, employees qualify if they work 37.5 hours in a week. Under the changes, that would change to 40.

This is the first time changes have been suggested to SEIU members in more than 12 years.

"We did not want to have our health care on the table," said Woodbury Clinic lab assistant Constance Swets. "We're not asking for anything new with our healthcare we just want to keep it the same."

In a statement, HealthPartners called the changes modest, adding the changes would ultimately support better care for workers:

"We remain committed to returning to the bargaining table to reach an agreement on a new contract that is fair to all. A federal mediator has been part of the negotiating process, and it will be up to the mediator to call both parties back to the table.   
"Our last offer would’ve ensured that our SEIU-represented colleagues maintain some of the most competitive benefits in this market. We proposed modest changes to their health plan that would support better health and encourage our colleagues to get care in high-quality, more affordable settings. We believe that this is a fair and reasonable proposal, especially given the financial headwinds facing the health care industry."

Union officials say the results of the vote will be announced on Friday. If workers vote to strike, the union will then give HealthPartners a ten day notice before launching any strike.