Striking Red Cross workers’ life blood on the line

CLEVELAND – In a unanimous vote recently the Cleveland City Council passed a resolution supporting the strike by 250 blood collection workers at Northern Ohio Red Cross. The action followed similar resolutions in Toledo and Lansing, Mich., where strikes against Red Cross are also under way.

The strike by Teamsters Local 507 in the Northern Ohio region, based in Cleveland and covering 19 counties, is now in its fourth month. The unions in all three locations charge the agency is stonewalling talks and seeking unilateral power to alter negotiated contracts, especially in health care plans.

“Our members are committed to retaining their collective bargaining rights as much as they are committed to providing caring service to donors who visit the blood drives,” Mike Parker, Principal Officer of Teamsters Local 580 in Lansing, said. Parker charged that Red Cross is also stifling negotiations and is offering only six hours of talks and then not until June 19.

“By the time June 19 rolls around, our members will have been on strike 11 weeks.”

Dozens of strikers came to the Cleveland AFL-CIO meeting May 9, asking help to boycott blood drives and funds to support their fight. They said donations should be sent to Red Cross Strikers, c/o Teamsters Local 507, 5425 Warner Rd., Unit 7, Cleveland, OH 44125. Below is the statement read by one striker, a mobile unit worker, at the meeting:

“My name is Kathy Greene and I am a proud member of Teamsters local 507. I have been with the American Red Cross for 8 yrs. I was so excited to work for this great organization. Quickly the rose-colored glasses came off and the truth became clear.

“Blood drives were 50-100 miles from my home. My workday was anywhere from 10-16 hrs. Working at a site that was grandfathered in without air on a 90-degree day and trying to keep my staff and donors from passing out was part of my daily challenge. When donors went over goal and I called for help I was told that they didn’t have anyone available and I would have to deal with it. Part of my dealing with it was making sure we were getting the donors through as quickly as possible because I didn’t want customers to complain that they waited too long. The extra donors sand paperwork must be done correctly to avoid the blood being put on hold or discarded. Then I have to try to give breaks and lunches to my staff while donors look on.

“I personally have a heart condition and many times I have to look at my schedule to see if I should take my medication because I’m probably not going to be able to take a break to go to the bathroom due to extra donors. I have to make sure that my staff who have health issues or are pregnant get that break. We look out for each other not management.

“I don’t know about everyone else, but would you want someone to come at you with a big needle that has not had anything to eat or drink in hours? Not me!

“Exhaustion from a long day without a break can cause errors. If I forget to dot an I or cross a t on my paperwork can put the blood on hold. Try explaining that to management, that you were tired or were rushed due to going over goal, or late setting up the blood drive, That’s not an excuse! Red Cross could be fined by the FDA! And whose fault is that? MINE!

“We have many policies and procedures that we have to follow per the American Blood Bank Association and the FDA. We are all trained professionals. We are paramedics, EMTs, medical assistants, phlebotomists and nurses. Before we can work to our full capacity we go through months of training. Then every quarter we have to be observed by a supervisor then yearly. We constantly have some sort of training or updates.

“We are the front-line of the American Red Cross. We are the first person you see and we are the reason you come back. We love our jobs and the donors. Over these past 12 weeks we have been told: “if you don’t like your job quit!” Our response to that is we do love our jobs. That’s why we are out here fighting for them. All we want is respect and a fair wage! I would like to know that the American Red Cross sees each of us for who we really are-hard-working, dedicated people who understand the mission of the Red Cross. But do they? This is supposed to be a great humanitarian organization that strives to help others. What about their employees that can’t afford their medical bills, can’t afford to put gas in their cars so they can drive more than a hundred miles to work? What about the families who have to find a sitter to watch their kids at 4am? A fair wage, good medical and working with us on our schedules would be a reward for our blood, sweat and tears.

“In closing let me tell you about the hard working collection staff of the Red Cross. We are the ones that are up at 3 am driving in a snowstorm to set up a blood drive. We are the ones that get home after working more than 14 hours to find our kids already asleep. We are the ones that you tell your stories that getting blood saved your life or the life of a friend or family member. We are the ones that are providing a good experience to our donors so they keep coming back. We are the ones that keep the blood safe to save lives. WE ARE THE AMERICAN RED CROSS!”

Delegates responded to Greene’s speech with a standing ovation.

Photo: Teamster Nation blog 



Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.