DULUTH — The local health care union has launched a campaign that places billboard advertisements denouncing Essentia Health's 900-employee layoff in cities across the region.
The United Steelworkers 9460 recently set up two billboards in Duluth that read "Essentia Health putting wealth over health like nowhere else." One is located along Interstate 35 near West Duluth and one is on Rice's Point, visible when heading to Superior via the Blatnik Bridge.
More billboards are slated to show up in cities where Essentia has layoffs planned, including Spooner, Ashland, Hayward, Ely, Hibbing and more in the Twin Ports, said Adam Ritscher, vice president of USW Local 9460.
"(They're) giving voice to the frustration that our members feel, and it's a way of letting the community know we need your help, we need your support, we need you to know what's going on," Ritscher said.
In response, Essentia said in a statement: "We value every one of our colleagues. That’s what has made these decisions so tough. Yet we have tried to be as transparent as possible with all of our stakeholders while navigating this challenging situation. Specific to the United Steelworkers Local 9460, we are honoring what’s been negotiated by both sides and following agreed-upon language from the contract that details how we will implement a workforce reduction."
USW hopes the billboards influence Essentia to reverse the layoffs via community pressure, Ritscher said.
They believe the layoffs will hurt the community "because we need health care workers at a time like this. We need folks who have training and experience to make sure that people get the treatment that they need," he said.
In its statement, Essentia wrote it's "doing everything possible to ensure we are here to provide high-quality patient care well into the future."
The Duluth-based health care system announced in May it would lay off 900 employees — or around 6% of its workforce — to ease revenue losses caused by the pandemic.
Essentia saw major decreases in patient volumes, which contributed to a loss of $100 million between March and April. The layoffs will save approximately $50 million annually.