Union coalition ratifies 5-year pact with Kaiser

OAKLAND – Unionized workers at Kaiser Permanente ratified a new five-year contract Sept. 28. The contract covers some 82,000 employees from 29 different unions at more than 400 Kaiser facilities in eight states — including Oregon and Washington — that bargaining jointly under the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

In Oregon and Southwest Washington, Kaiser employs more than 6,000 workers who are represented by Service Employees Local 49, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017, Teamsters, Oregon Nurses Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Operating Engineers Local 701 represents more that 50 engineers serving Kaiser facilities in Oregon and Southwest Washington, but is not part of the coalition.

The new five-year agreement provides an annual average 4.5 percent wage and benefits increase, a range of performance-based bonus opportunities, an expanded range of retirement packages tied to organizational performance improvements, and an investment in a joint-training fund for workforce development. The agreement also covers topics such as membership growth, service quality, workforce development, work redesign and attendance.

“It’s the best health care contract we’ve ever negotiated anywhere,” said John Etten, director of collective bargaining for UFCW Local 555, which represents approximately 750 employees in imaging services and pharmacy technicians. “It includes great wages, great benefits, and actually doubles our pension benefits over five years.”

The national agreement is the result of a unique Labor Management Partnership created in 1997 by the unions and the health maintenance organization. It is the second five-year contract the sides have negotiated.

Using interest-based bargaining, more than 400 employees, managers, physicians and dentists met in “bargaining task groups” for several weeks this past spring and made detailed recommendations to the union-management team that drafted the actual agreement. In August the process moved to 44 “local tables” where local issues were hammered out between unions and Kaiser’s regional leaders.

The partnership has been credited with creating a high-performance workplace that has yielded superior health care and business results.

Peter diCicco, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, said that, “While many employers are battling their unions, Kaiser Permanente has forged a unique cooperative strategy that goes far beyond traditional labor relations. This strategy means that front-line supervisors and managers have union partners with whom they work closely, and determine jointly how work gets done, and by whom. Workers are included in decisions about budgets, staffing and workforce planning.”

“When our front-line workers feel direct ownership for the care and service they deliver, it can only mean better health care for the members of Kaiser Permanente,” said Leslie Margolin, national senior vice president, health plan and hospital operations. “This new agreement strengthens our workforce engagement and shared decision-making processes that are key to the Labor-Management Partnership.”

The Labor-Management Partnership has yielded other positive results, union officials said. Among them:

• Significantly better nurse-staffing ratios, making Kaiser Permanente the only health care organization to commit to a nurse-patient ratio of 1:5.

• Legislation to improve needle safety for health care workers that has become a national standard in reducing needle sticks — and has protected countless health care professionals from needle-borne infections such as HIV. Kaiser Permanente helped write the needle safety standards that California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration now uses to regulate all health care facilities statewide.

• Operational improvements credited with saving several hundred million dollars a year across the Kaiser Permanente regions.

• Improvements in telephone and appointment access, claims processing, optical manufacturing, worker and patient safety, and employee and member satisfaction.

• A 56 percent reduction in employee grievances since the implementation of the partnership.

Kaiser Permanente was founded in 1945 and is headquartered in Oakland, Calif. It serves more than 8.3 million members in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Ohio, the Washington, D.C., metro area (including parts of Virginia and Maryland), and Georgia.

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