By Don McIntosh
Twenty-two local unions announced late in the day March 26 that they’re quitting the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU) and won’t take part in the nation-wide bargaining that was scheduled to begin today in Oakland, California.
The exit removes 45,000 union members from the coalition, with 70,700 members of 13 locals remaining.
The decision comes after months of tensions between many of the Coalition’s smaller unions and its largest union, 46,000-member SEIU United Healthcare West (SEIU-UHW). SEIU-UHW wanted to have more say over Coalition decision-making, and on its own began to pursue a more confrontational strategy.
The unions leaving CKPU say they plan to form a new as-yet-to-be-named alliance “in the spirit of the original coalition and labor-management partnership.” [3/30/18 UPDATE: The coalition will be known as the Alliance of Health Care Unions (AHCU), led by Peter diCicco, a founder and longtime executive director of the CKPU.]
“We want to get back to a place of mutual respect, partnership, and consensus decision making,” says registered nurse Adrienne Enghouse, president of Oregon Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals (OFNHP, AFT Local 5017), one of the departing unions. OFNHP represents 4,300 Kaiser RNs, dental hygienists, medical technicians and health care professionals in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
As a health maintenance organization (HMO), Kaiser Permanente combines features of an insurance company and a hospital system. It operates in eight states — California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Virginia — and in Washington, DC. It’s also the most heavily unionized large health care employer in the nation — and the site of a unique “partnership” agreement in which unions and employer commit to a collaborative relationship.
The unions that are leaving have good relationships with Kaiser, and say they want to preserve that partnership. They are affiliates of seven international unions — AFSCME, United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), United Steel Workers, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Teamsters, Operating Engineers, and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) — plus an independent union called Kaiser Permanente Nurse Anesthetists Association (KPNAA).
The unions that remain are affiliates of four international unions: SEIU, Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), UNITE HERE, and International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers (IFPTE).
Twenty years of labor unity come to a close
The split is the first major rift among participating unions since the CKPU union coalition formed in 1996. Back then, Kaiser was in deep financial trouble, and had a history of conflict with its unions. All that changed with the creation in 1997 of what all sides touted as a historic “Labor Management Partnership” between Kaiser and the CKPU. Now in its 21st year, it’s the largest, longest-running and most comprehensive labor-management partnership in the United States. The partnership gives front-line employees a say in decisions that affect them. Self-directed work teams come up with ways to improve performance and reduce waste. And under the rules of the partnership, bargaining is supposed to be “interest-based” and collaborative, not “position-based” and adversarial.
But the unity of the labor side of the partnership began to come undone in recent months.
At a meeting of CKPU unions in August 2017 in Portland, SEIU-UHW pushed for a change to the CKPU’s bylaws to give more decision-making weight to unions based on their size. CKPU’s decision-making process had always before been based on consensus among its constituent unions—even though they varied in size from dozens to tens of thousands of members. CKPU had negotiated five national collective bargaining agreements with Kaiser using that process.
Though the discussion reportedly devolved into a shouting match at times, participating unions agreed to a compromise that gave somewhat greater weight to larger unions.
Then, according to several sources, SEIU-UHW asked Kaiser to bargain with them as the sole representative of the Coalition. Kaiser refused.
In November, SEIU-UHW filed a prospective ballot initiative in California that would have prohibited Kaiser from raising its premiums until its capital reserves drop below a certain level. The initiative made no distinction between Kaiser and insurance companies: It counted Kaiser’s hospitals and medical offices as capital reserves.
Kaiser management said for SEIU-UHW to promote such a measure violated the terms of its partnership deal, and announced that it would bar SEIU-UHW from taking part in the 2018 Coalition bargaining.
On Feb. 6, 2018, SEIU-UHW withdrew the initiative. It also signed an agreement with Kaiser and the unions agreeing not to file hostile legislation in the future. And it was on track to once again take part in bargaining once again.
From February 14 to early March 9, in advance of the scheduled beginning of CKPU’s national contract bargaining, SEIU-UHW held a series of 32 protest demonstrations at Kaiser locations across California. The message: Kaiser is thriving financially, with net revenue of $3.8 billion last year, yet still plans to outsource some jobs and cut wage rates for some new hires.
The final straw was a March 19 meeting of the coalition unions, at which SEIU UHW brought up the decision-making process again, threatening to block agreement if it wasn’t revised further.
Enghouse, the OFNHP president, says it became apparent then that the unions were not going to be a cohesive team. The labor-management partnership is complicated even when it’s functioning, Enghouse said; with unions at odds, it would make no sense to begin.
Reacting to the announcement that the 22 local unions are leaving, SEIU Locals 49 in Portland and 105 in Colorado issued statements faulting the exiting unions for not giving members a chance to vote on that decision. Local 49 also expressed disappointment “in the lack of solidarity from the other union leaders in the Northwest.”
Though five SEIU locals remain in the partnership, the rancor felt by the departing unions toward SEIU-UHW doesn’t appear to extend to other SEIU locals, such as Local 49 in Oregon and 1199 in Washington.
“Our members work side by side and care about each other,” Enghouse said. “We will always stand by SEIU Local 49 in their striving to get a good contract.”
Local 49 president Meg Niemi expressed similar sentiments in a statement emailed to the Labor Press: “We care about all the union members of Kaiser Permanente and we hope the unions that left will reunite with our coalition because we know we’re stronger together. That said, we want SEIU 49 members to be clear that they voted to join the coalition 20 years ago, and the only way our union will leave the coalition is that if members vote to make that decision.”
One other major Kaiser union — California Nurses Association (CNA) — was never a part of the CKPU. CNA, now part of the National Nurses United union, just came to terms March 20 on a new five-year agreement with Kaiser that provides raises of 12 percent to 19,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners.
CKPU’s current national contract, negotiated in 2015, expires Sept. 30, 2018.
Unions leaving the Kaiser coalition: 22 locals, 37,102 members
- AFSCME United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) – 15,500 members
- Kaiser Permanente Nurse Anesthetists Association (KPNAA) – 350 members
- Teamsters Local 166 – 500 members
- International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 501 – 470 members
- United Steelworkers of America (USW) Local 7600 – 6,000 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770 – 1,800 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 324 – 900 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135 – 900 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1428 – 150 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1442 – 10 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1167 – 100 members
- Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), AFT Healthcare Local 5017 – 4,300 members
- International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 28 – 70 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555 – 900 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 – 1,024 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 – 1,300 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27 – 200 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1996 – 1,800 members
- International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 1 – 28 members
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 – 1,700 members
- Hawaii Government Employees Assocation (AFSCME Local 152)
Unions remaining in the Kaiser coalition: 13 locals, 70,700 members
- IFPTE Local 20 – 1300 members
- OPEIU Local 29 – 2400 members
- SEIU United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) – 28,400 members
- Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 30 – 4,000 members
- SEIU United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) – 18,000 members
- Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 121RN – 200 members
- Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49 – 3,800 members
- Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 8 – 800 members
- Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199NW – 2,200 members
- Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 2 – 3,800 members
- Hawaii Nurses Association, Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 50 – 800 members
- UNITE HERE Local 5 – 2,000 members
- Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 – 3,000 members
In their own words: The public announcement
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 26, 2018
New Coalition Emerges Among Unions at Kaiser Permanente
LOS ANGELES, CA— Twenty-one local unions from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU) have decided to leave and create a new alliance in the spirit of the original coalition and labor-management partnership. The unions of the new alliance share a deep commitment to each other and continuing partnership with Kaiser Permanente to improve patient care and make Kaiser the best place to work.
“After careful consideration and many attempts to work out our differences, it became apparent that the only way to continue working as part of the historic Labor-Management Partnership was to form a new alliance of unions,” said Denise Duncan, RN, President of UNAC/UHCP (affiliated with AFSCME) in Southern California.
The internal decision-making process of the original coalition had historically been based on consensus, to balance the needs and concerns of all its constituent unions—which varied in size from dozens to tens of thousands of members—without any one union dominating. By this process, the coalition had successfully negotiated five national contract agreements with Kaiser. In recent months, during the lead-up to bargaining a new national agreement, the tactics of SEIU-UHW in Southern California had flown in the face of this longstanding tradition of broad-based consensus.
The new alliance, not yet named, will include 21 locals of AFSCME, UFCW, USW, IBT, KPNAA, IUOE, OFNHP (AFT), and ILWU. Together these unions represent over 45,000 members across hundreds of job classifications in nearly every geographic area where Kaiser Permanente has a presence.
The trailblazing Labor-Management Partnership (LMP) between Kaiser Permanente and the original coalition of unions was born as a response to financial difficulties faced by Kaiser during the 1990s. It drove innovation that improved the quality of health care, reflected in rising quality ratings for KP and increased affordability for patients. It’s the largest, longest-running and most comprehensive labor-management partnership in the United States, well-studied within academia while its innovations in integrated health care delivery have been widely adopted throughout the entire United States’ health care system.
“Change and adaptability are key to innovation and to ensuring that Kaiser remains the best place to work and receive care,” said President Adrienne Enghouse of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, AFT Local 5017. “Through this new alliance, we look forward to improving our National agreement and the way our members deliver quality care to our patients and our communities.”
The new coalition will comprise the following unions: UNAC/UHCP and HGEA (AFSCME), UFCW Locals 1167, 135, 1428, 1442, 324 and 770 in Southern California, UFCW Locals 27 and 400 in Mid-Atlantic, UFCW Local 7 in Colorado, UFCW Local 555 in Northwest, UFCW Local 1996 in Georgia, UFCW Local 21 in Washington, USW Local 7600, IBT Local 166, KPNAA, IUOE Local 501 and Local 1, OFNHP (AFT Local 5017), and ILWU Local 28.