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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

No talks slated as Red Cross strike goes on

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Striking blood-service staff, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75, picket the Red Cross on Executive Parkway. Striking blood-service staff, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75, picket the Red Cross on Executive Parkway.
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The labor dispute between the Red Cross Western Lake Erie region and the union that represents its blood service workers remains unresolved, though as of yet the blood supply to local hospitals has not suffered.

About 130 Red Cross employees represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union have been on strike since late March over what they say are concerns related to health-care coverage. Red Cross officials say their offer is fair and there seems to be a misunderstanding by employees over the cost structure of the plan.

Both sides say they're waiting for the other to return to the negotiating table.

Based in Toledo, the striking workers conduct blood drives across an 11-county area in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Ian Thigpen, communications programs manager with the American Red Cross in Toledo, said the work stoppage has significantly cut the number of drives, though there's not an imminent supply concern.

"Right now we're pulling in somewhere between 25 and 40 units [of blood] per day, but we need 300 units per day in order to facilitate our local needs. However, because we have a national distribution system, we've made sure all our hospitals have received all the blood products they need," Mr. Thigpen said. "We don't know how long we will be able to sustain this."

Jared Meade, a spokesman for Promedica, one of the area's largest hospital systems, said the Red Cross has met its obligations. He said those who run the hospital's blood bank aren't concerned about supply.

"They don't foresee any issues to be able to meet the blood supply for our patients," Mr. Meade said.

UFCW officials held a press conference Monday afternoon outside the Red Cross office on Executive Parkway to announce they've organized an independent blood drive over Mother's Day weekend.

LifeShare Community Blood Services, based in Lorain, Ohio, will run collection at the Teamsters Local 20 headquarters at 435 S. Hawley St. in Toledo on May 12 and at the UFCW Local 75 headquarters at 441 International Dr. in Holland on May 13.

"We understand that the service our members provide at the Red Cross is very important," said Bill Dudley, a spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75. "We want to reach out and get people the opportunity to donate blood with an organization that is union, that does respect workers."

LifeShare will offer the blood collected at those drives to area hospitals. Whether the hospitals will take it remains unknown. None of the 24 hospitals to which the Toledo-area Red Cross provides blood currently have contracts to purchase blood from LifeShare. Mr. Dudley did not know if any of those hospitals would contract the outfit.

Mr. Thigpen said the Red Cross "did not currently have an intent" to contact any of the hospitals to which it supplies blood regarding the LifeShare drive. He did not know if any Red Cross contracts would forbid hospitals from contracting with other blood banks, but said he did not expect any would be in a position such that they would need to purchase blood elsewhere.

The Red Cross employees went on strike March 27 after nearly four years without a contract.

Stacey Smith, a Red Cross nurse who has worked in Toledo for two and a half years, said she and the other strikers want to go back to work and are concerned over bills, blood supplies, and keeping the faith of their donors. However, Ms. Smith said they aren't ready to budge on their position.

"I just feel like the things we're asking for are not unreasonable, they're not selfish. It's just to not have to choose between feeding our family and health care," she said, asserting she could have to put approximately one-third of her salary toward health care.

Union officials say the proposal they've been given also takes away their right to negotiate for health coverage.

Mr. Thigpen said the Red Cross proposal gives each employee the option to choose one of three plans. He also said the $11,000 figure some have quoted is not the deductible, but instead the maximum out-of-pocket expense.

He said the proposed deductible is $3,000. Once that's met, the insurance company would pay 80 percent of all expenses, with the employee covering 20 percent until the employee has reached $11,000. At that point, 100 percent of medical bills would be covered.

"I believe what we have on the table is fair, and I think that's why we've had 20 other unions sign on to the same health-care proposal since July of 2011," Mr. Thigpen said.

He said all union and non-union staff have the same health-care options.

Mr. Dudley said the union is prepared to strike until it gets a better proposal.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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