Facing down the possibility of a strike by tens of thousands of workers nationwide, Kaiser Permanente and the coalition of Kaiser workers' unions reached a tentative deal that the coalition called a “historic agreement.”
The Sept. 25 deal must be approved by a union workers' vote that is expected to be complete by the end of October, according to a Kaiser news release.
A few thousand Kaiser Permanente workers in Colorado were poised to participate in a seven-day strike beginning Oct. 14, following what the local union branch said was a lack of progress in a push for fair negotiation and wage increases that keep up with the cost of living.
“We've been seeing Kaiser for a year and a half not come to the table, not listen to concerns about understaffing, outsourcing,” said David Fernandez, spokesperson for Service Employees International Union Local 105, the union's Colorado branch.
The agreement is “a big win,” Fernandez said.
Kaiser Permanente Colorado had characterized the possible strike as a “corporate campaign designed to leverage (unions) better at the bargaining table,” as Nick Roper, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado spokesperson, said in mid-September. Kaiser's offer to employees at the time included “solid wage increases” and other benefits, Roper had said.
“We greatly respect and value our employees who deliver on our mission every day,” Arlene Peasnall, interim chief human resources officer of Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals, said in the news release. “This agreement is a testament to the dedication, compassion and skill those employees bring to work every day and demonstrates that Kaiser Permanente and the coalition have a shared commitment to affordability for our members.”
What agreement includes
More than 80,000 Kaiser workers in seven states and the District of Columbia are members of the coalition of unions and were at play in the negotiations with Kaiser.
The four-year agreement includes annual raises of 3% in each of the four years for workers in California, Oregon and southern Washington, according to a news release from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. In Colorado, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and the rest of Washington state, workers will receive raises of 3% the first year and 2% plus a 1% lump sum the following three years, according to the release.
Full protection of retirement benefits for current and future employees — and an expansion of retirement benefits in Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland and D.C. — are also included, according to the release.
Kaiser's outsourcing and automating jobs away have also been sticking points for the unions, according to Fernandez.
The agreement includes a ban on subcontracting and stronger restrictions on outsourcing. As part of the deal, a committee will also advise Kaiser on ways to prevent replacing certain workers with automation, according to Fernandez.
Deal affects thousands
Overall, a five-year agreement is what the union coalition was aiming for, but given what the deal included, “I think this was an easy concession,” Fernandez said.
If approved, the contract will have an effective date of Oct. 1 and will cover more than 80,000 employees, including more than 3,000 in Colorado, according to the Kaiser release. Union employees represent hundreds of job positions, from optometrists and pharmacists to maintenance and service workers, the release added.
Medical assistants, licensed practical nurses, pharmacy technicians, medical technicians and administrative and support staff, among other positions, were among those who may have gone on strike.
Physicians and registered nurses were generally not expected to strike. Mental health workers were not part of the potential strike.
In Colorado, about 1,200 Kaiser physicians and another 3,200 Kaiser workers weren't part of the current negotiations and weren't expected to strike.
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