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Elected Officials and Community Supporters to Hold “We’re Thankful for Gundersen Healthcare Workers” Event, Call on Executives to Respect and Invest in Frontline Staff

November 22, 2021

Leading up to Thanksgiving, as COVID surges across La Crosse County…

SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin
Media Advisory For: Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021
Contact: Dave Bates, 347-865-8038,

Elected Officials and Community Supporters to Hold “We’re
Thankful for Gundersen Healthcare Workers” Event,
Call on Executives to Respect and Invest in Frontline Staff
Gundersen workers have been risking their lives and their families’ lives to care for their
community, but are struggling with severe understaffing, turnover, and unfair wages
while Gundersen has made massive profits

Who: Elected officials, community supporters and Gundersen workers

What: “We’re Thankful for Gundersen Healthcare Workers” event

Where: Little Houska Park, South Ave. at Farnam St., La Crosse

When: Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 4:15 pm

La Crosse, WI- Leading up to Thanksgiving, as COVID continues to surge across La Crosse
County, elected officials and community supporters will hold a “We’re Thankful for Gundersen
Healthcare Workers” event, and call on executives to respect and invest in frontline staff. The
community supporters will be handing out hot chocolate, cider and Thanksgiving-themed treats as a
small token of gratitude to workers before and after their shifts at Gundersen Medical Center and
Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance.

Throughout the pandemic, Gundersen workers have been risking their lives and their families’ lives
on the front lines to keep the health system running and provide quality care to their community. But
despite massive profits, Gundersen pays inadequate and unfair wages which have not kept up with
the skyrocketing cost of living, and workers are struggling to make ends meet. Not only are
Gundersen workers underpaid, but they are also suffering from extreme burnout and physical,
mental and emotional exhaustion. Inadequate wages, combined with disrespect and a lack of
transparency from executives, have created severe understaffing and turnover, which workers fear
could impact the safety and quality of patient care.

“Gundersen workers deliver hands-on care every day,” said La Crosse City Council Member
Rebecca Schwarz. “They answer emergencies, disinfect hospital rooms, prepare nutritious food, and
keep the hospital running. All of us owe them a profound debt of gratitude. They are our family
members and neighbors. During the latest COVID surges, they’ve continued to put themselves at
risk to do their essential jobs. It’s time to not just call them heroes, but take action to support them.
We must respect frontline Gundersen workers, and that means investing in them so they can provide
for their families and continue to provide safe, quality care to all of us.”

550 certified nursing assistants and workers in environmental services, dietary, laundry,
maintenance and other vital jobs at Gundersen Medical Center--along with About 50 paramedics
and emergency medical technicians at Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance--have been calling for fair
compensation in their union contract negotiations. Gundersen has been paying some positions as
little as $11.40 an hour--poverty-level wages--for years.

After workers spoke out forcefully at work and in the press, executives recently agreed to implement
a $15 minimum wage, but said workers who make more than that at Gundersen Medical Center
would only get a 1% raise each year. They have offered Tri-state Ambulance workers a 3% increase
each year, but employees would still be falling behind because that does not keep up with the cost of
living. Workers point out that, according to an MIT study, a living wage for a single parent of one
child is $29.37 per hour in La Crosse County.

“In environmental services, we are crucial for infection control, because we sanitize and clean the
patient rooms and entire hospital, but we are severely understaffed and it’s very difficult to do our
jobs properly,” said Veronica Craig, who has been an environmental assistant at Gundersen Medical
Center for 17 years. “The workload is nearly impossible to complete each shift, they’re working us to
the bone, and management doesn’t listen to us when we consistently raise our urgent concerns. I
have around 24 patient rooms to clean in just one shift--some of which have patients who tested
positive for COVID--plus the staff and visitor restrooms, nurses’ station and storage rooms. There
used to be two staff people for this workload but now it’s just me. On top of the exhausting workload,
it’s been very scary during the pandemic, because my husband has diabetes and is at high risk, so
I’ve been deeply worried about bringing the virus home to him. Meanwhile Gundersen is making
millions in profits, but workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Low wages, overwhelming
assignments and disrespect from management have caused so many of my coworkers to leave. The
way Gundersen executives are treating us feels cruel and inhumane, like they don’t see the frontline
workers as human beings.”

Gundersen is extremely financially healthy, and has more than enough resources to invest in the
workforce to improve recruitment and retention of staff. The medical center had over $216 million in
profits in 2019, the last full year that IRS data is available, and Gundersen Health System overall
had more than $314 million in cash on hand last year. Gundersen Medical Center and Clinic
together received over $54 million in taxpayer bailouts during the pandemic.

Workers say that unjust compensation is morally wrong, and goes against Gundersen Health
System’s stated values of enhancing “the health and well-being of our communities, while enriching
every life we touch, including patients, families, and staff.” Unfair wages also go against Wisconsin
values, and the values that America aspires to, which hold that if you work hard and contribute
positively to society, you should be able to provide a life of dignity and a better future for yourself and
your family.

As a taxpayer supported “non-profit,” and one of the largest employers in the county, Gundersen has
a moral responsibility to be a leader and set high standards for how staff are treated. Elected
officials, community supporters and Gundersen workers have vowed to dramatically ramp up their
efforts to hold executives accountable so they respect and invest in staff, and the La Crosse
community can receive the safest, highest quality care.


SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin is the state’s largest and fastest-growing healthcare workers union, and their
mission is to win quality care and good jobs for all. They represent thousands of hospital, nursing home, home care, and social service workers.