Strike averted at Kaiser Permanente

By Don McIntosh

Kaiser Permanente and unions representing about 80,000 of its employees reached tentative agreement at 4 a.m. Sept. 25 on a new four-year union contract. The settlement came six days after the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced that a seven-day strike would begin Oct. 14.

The new agreement covers members of 11 local unions in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. In the Portland area, it covers members of SEIU Local 49.

If as expected it’s ratified by workers in the coming weeks, the agreement would run Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2023, and would raise wages 3% a year in Oregon, California, and southern Washington. Elsewhere in Washington and in Colorado, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland, and DC, wages will rise 3% in year one and then 2% plus a 1% lump sum the following three years. If Kaiser hits financial performance benchmarks, those lump sum amounts would become permanent pay increases instead.

To reach a deal, Kaiser dropped proposals to end defined-benefit pension benefits or pay new hires less, and agreed to several improvements:

  • Job security: Kaiser agreed to a list of jobs that won’t be outsourced, including housekeeping, pharmacy, call centers, laboratories, and revenue collection.
  • Technology: A new joint committee will discuss how technology is introduced, with a mandate to ensure patients continue to receive personal care.
  • Internal advancement: Job experience requirements will be waived when qualified employees apply for higher-skilled positions within Kaiser; they’ll earn a lower-than-Step-1 wage the first two years while they learn on the job.
  • Training funds: Kaiser will provide $130 million over four years to train thousands of workers to fill jobs in California.

The two sides say once the contract is approved, they’ll work on resuscitating Kaiser’s longstanding worker-management partnership. That relationship has frayed severely in recent years.

“There was a real question of whether Kaiser wanted to partner with us and continue to be the best place to work and to earn our partnership,” said SEIU Local 49 president Meg Niemi. “This is a recommitment to the partnership. We all have a lot of hard work to do.”

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