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Looming strike could threaten Indiana blood supply

(Photo Supplied/American Red Cross)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Inside Indiana Business): The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has notified the American Red Cross of its intention to strike if a labor dispute is not resolved by the end of March. Such a walkout would affect the dominant blood collection service in Indiana.

In a letter sent to Red Cross officials on Thursday, the Teamsters’ lead negotiator served notice that a strike would happen on March 31 at 6 a.m.

“We have decided to go on strike and fight for the contract improvement our members deserve,” the letter reads, noting areas of concern that include health care plans, wages, retirement plans and paid time off. “Resolve this issue and give the employees what they deserve!”

A representative of the Indiana chapter of the Red Cross confirmed the possibility of a labor action by its unionized workers, who operate in collection and transport capacities for the area’s largest blood product supplier. The nonprofit organization told WPTA in a statement that a strike “would disrupt the already vulnerable supply of lifesaving blood products that patients depend on, with more than 100,000 donations at risk across the country during the month of April alone.”

The statement does note that there are “plans in place” to address any disruption, but no specifics were provided.

The American Red Cross staffs two fixed collection centers in Fort Wayne: One at its headquarters, in the 1200 block of California Road, and the second at Lutheran Hospital in the southwest part of the city. There are other collection sites, along with mobile collection vehicles that host blood drives across the region.

Nationally, the Red Cross supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood. A disruption of blood collection and distribution could have significant impact on hospitals and patients, and it comes as the organization works through a severe shortage. In January, the Red Cross said it was facing “a national blood crisis — its worst blood shortage in over a decade, posing a concerning risk to patient care.” Contributing causes included the pandemic and staffing limitations — something that has affected the health care industry along with many other sectors.

In a crisis, elective surgeries are likely to be canceled to allow the available supply to be directed to emergency needs.

WPTA has reached out to the Teamsters for comment but had not heard back as of publication of this article. A March 16 Facebook post shares photos of a rally at the Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, DC, with an assertion that “Red Cross collections workers are working more than 40 hours a week and on weekends to ensure there is enough blood for patients’ needs. But now, in contract negotiations, the Red Cross wants to move workers into a healthcare plan with higher annual deductibles, higher out-of-pocket maximums and higher co-pays, even though we’ve accepted lower wages and mandatory overtime as a trade-off for our high-quality healthcare plan.”

Northeastern Indiana Red Cross workers contacted Teamsters Local 414 in late 2016, initiating a process that led to a formal joining the following year. About 140 workers were involved at that time.

Full statement from the American Red Cross:

“The American Red Cross has received notification that members of the Teamsters may begin a work stoppage on March 31 if a contract agreement cannot be reached before that time. This action would disrupt the already vulnerable supply of lifesaving blood products that patients depend on, with more than 100,000 donations at risk across the country during the month of April alone.

We have a longstanding history of working together with our labor partners to solve complex problems and remain committed to negotiating in good faith to reach the best possible agreement for both the organization and our valued employees. We have presented mutually beneficial proposals, providing opportunities to increase wages and maintain generous health benefits.

Together, the Red Cross and the Teamsters have reached tentative agreements on many terms and conditions of employment through productive, good faith bargaining. We are hopeful the Teamsters will return to the bargaining table in good faith and continue negotiations with us. We recognize that contract negotiations are often passionate, and informational picketing may take place as part of the bargaining process.

The Red Cross greatly values its employees whose compassion and hard work help those in need each day.

As a non-profit, humanitarian organization, the Red Cross remains focused on delivering its mission for patients across the country who rely on us to provide lifesaving blood. While this notification does not guarantee that a work stoppage will occur, the Red Cross has plans in place to continue meeting the blood needs of hospitals and patients if a strike begins. The Red Cross supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood, so it is critically important we maintain a readily available blood supply for patients in need.”

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