By Richard Levey
The Coalition of Red Cross Unions is negotiating with Red Cross management to avoid labor disruptions at the end of May, when a current contract extension with blood services workers expires. The Coalition, which represents 3,000 workers within 10 labor groups at the American Red Cross, is seeking a variety of changes to overall staffing levels, workers’ current compensation and healthcare coverage.
Unionized American Red Cross workers are currently on the third extension of their contract, which expired Sept. 30, 2021. Sources differ on the state of negotiations as of mid-May.
According to a Red Cross spokesperson, negotiations are ongoing, with meetings scheduled. The two sides have reached tentative agreements on a number of issues, including safety concerns and a paid family leave policy, under which eligible employees would receive up to 12 weeks of paid caregiver and parental leave at 80% of their base salary or weekly wage, up to an unspecified maximum, the Red Cross spokesperson said.
In an April 18 letter to U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) Commissioner Robert M. Califf, Coalition leaders asserted they “believe that the American Red Cross has been too slow to adequately address [a variety of issues], even at the bargaining table.” The letter sought the FDA’s assistance in reaching a new contract agreement.
To date, there has been no response from FDA leadership regarding the Coalition’s letter. But a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the primary organizations representing Red Cross workers, said that as of mid-May members of Congress were preparing a letter to the Red Cross urging settlement.
Within the letter to the FDA, Coalition leaders claimed that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic workers were exposed to the virus, necessitating their having to quarantine, which in some cases caused them to use up their paid time off or go without pay. The Red Cross’s workforce has experienced a voluntary, annualized turnover rate of 50%, with turnover in several regions reaching 100%, according to the letter’s signers.
According to the spokesperson from the Red Cross, the nonprofit is offering employees under the Coalition’s umbrella the same health care coverage it provides to around 10,000 staff members. That coverage is through “a national, private, and multi-insurance carrier platform,” and includes flexibility regarding price and coverage.
“[The Coalition’s] current healthcare plan is no longer an option after December 2022 and is only viable as long as a contract extension or agreement is in place,” the Red Cross spokesperson asserted. “The Coalition’s most recent healthcare proposal would provide only one healthcare plan option for the employees and would increase costs for the Red Cross by an excessive and unreasonable amount,”
Three weeks before the current extension’s end, both sides acknowledge the possibility of a work disruption. “Workers within the Coalition of American Red Cross unions aren’t leaving anything off the table when it comes to saving their healthcare,” according to a Coalition spokesperson. “They’re prepared to mobilize, if necessary.”
“The Red Cross remains focused on delivering our mission for patients who rely on lifesaving blood,” the Red Cross spokesperson said. “Contingency plans are in place should we be unable to reach an agreement prior to the end of the contract extension. At this time, individuals are encouraged to make and keep their blood donation appointments in the days and weeks to come.”
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