Labor board will charge Kaiser for refusing to bargain, union says

Dive Brief:

  • The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is preparing to prosecute health system Kaiser Permanente for refusing bargain with SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, according to the union. SEIU-UHW, part of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, filed a complaint with the NLRB in the spring charging Kaiser for refusing to negotiate a new contract that covers 85,000 employees across eight states and D.C. Hearings for case will likely begin in the spring.
  • In their complaint, SEIU-UHW and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions claimed Kaiser tried to set conditions on bargaining that would ban unions from engaging in political action that could affect the healthcare organization. Kaiser issued a statement last week arguing the delay was due to a split that occurred within the coalition earlier this year, and said it is “confident the NLRB will agree that Kaiser Permanente has acted lawfully and in good faith” in dealings with SEIU-UHW.
  • That may not be the case. SEIU-UHW is planning on proposing a new arrangement. If Kaiser doesn’t agree to enter into that settlement proposed by the union, the NLRB is expected to issue charges by the end of the month — if not sooner, according to an email obtained by Healthcare Dive.

Dive Insight:

Kaiser has been wracked with labor woes this year. The health system reached an agreement with the Alliance of Health Care Unions — the 21 unions that broke off from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions — earlier this year. That split occurred the day before bargaining was scheduled to begin, and negotiations with the coalition did not move forward.

That contract, according to SEIU-UHW, included a condition prohibiting those unions from taking any kind of political action against Kaiser, including ballot initiatives, legislation or public policy campaigns. That’s the same condition that led SEIU-UHW to file its complaint earlier this year.

“The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions strongly opposes such a proposal,” SEIU-UHW said in a statement, “and believes this condition violates their free speech rights.”

Healthcare Dive reached out to the NLRB for confirmation on its reported decision to prosecute Kaiser, but did not receive a response in time for publishing.

“The decision confirms what has been clear to workers for months now: Kaiser isn’t the labor friendly employer it claims to be, nor is it as committed to patient care as it claims to be,” Lanette Griffin, a laboratory assistant at Kaiser Permanente, said in a statement. “If Kaiser was committed to improving patient care, you would expect it to want to negotiate a contract to retain and attract the outstanding caregivers who have driven the corporation’s success. But Kaiser is showing its true colors when it avoids bargaining and wants to silence our voices.”

Last week, 4,000 mental health workers represented by National United Healthcare Workers engaged in a five-day strike against Kaiser, causing the system to postpone some surgeries. Kaiser has attributed the cancellations to California Nurses Association nurses joined the picket line in an authorized sympathy strike.

“The determination by the district 32 office of the National Labor Relations Board is not a verdict. It is the beginning of the NLRB’s process to hold evidentiary hearings to fully understand this complicated case,” Kaiser said in its statement.



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