UPDATE: Sept. 25, 2019: Following two days of discussion, Kaiser Permanente has come to an agreement with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which has called off the strike. Under the terms of the four-year tentative agreement, some 85,000 unionized Kaiser employees will receive guaranteed annual wage increases through 2023, additional education, training and advancement opportunities, a defined benefit pension plan, higher travel reimbursement and incentives for using Kaiser’s mail-order prescription service.
The coalition of unions and Kaiser reached a consensus Tuesday following roughly five months of bargaining. The agreement still needs to be ratified by coalition union members. Voting is expected to be completed by the end of October and, if approved, the contract will have an effective date of Oct. 1.
Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser’s interim chief human resources officer, said the company and its workforce “may disagree at times, but we have always been able to work through our challenges to align on common goals,” she said.
- An overwhelming majority of Kaiser Permanente workers voted to authorize a strike in October over the not-for-profit integrated health system’s labor practices. It will be one of the largest strikes in the last two decades if the system and the union coalition fail to come to an understanding.
- The final unions voted over the weekend, bringing the total of U.S. Kaiser employees in support of the strike to almost 51,000 (97% of all Kaiser coalition union members). Three percent, or 1,348 workers, voted ‘no’ on the strike.
- The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions are meeting with Kaiser leadership Monday and Tuesday for a two-day bargaining session. If no agreement is reached, the strike is scheduled to begin Oct. 14 and run for seven days.
The final votes on a Kaiser Permanente strike trickled in over the weekend. The last three unions located in Washington, D.C. and Southern California finished voting on Friday, though a Coalition representative declined to break down votes by individual union.
Union leaders counted 50,884 ‘yes’ votes in support of the strike and 1,348 ‘no’ votes, accounting for 97% and 3% of workers represented by unions under the coalition, respectively.
Kaiser, which has previously blamed worker support for the strike on “misleading” ballot questions, said it would continue to work with the union coalition toward a mutually beneficial outcome. For example, the not-for-profit giant’s most recent contract proposal for its Colorado workers offers guaranteed wage increases and no changes to pension benefits.
“We are offering a proposal that’s fair, equitable, and aligned with our other union agreements,” Arlene Peasnall, Senior Vice President for Human Resources at Kaiser told Healthcare Dive. “We hope the Coalition will not call a strike on October 14. However, we are preparing to deal with all scenarios.”
Support for the strike has continued to mount over the past few months, with labor interests across the country skewering the Oakland, California-based nonprofit provider for soaring profits and what they see as unfair labor practices.
Along with sitting on more than $37 billion in reserves, Kaiser took in more than $5.2 billion in income in the first half of the year alone, heightening scrutiny of the system.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill into law earlier this month mandating Kaiser be more transparent within its financial disclosures, including breaking down expenses and revenue on a per-facility basis, revenue by type of payer and rate increases by type of medical service provided starting in 2020.
It’s been almost a full year since the Kaiser workforce’s national contract expired. Kaiser was charged by the National Labor Relations Board for failing to bargain in good faith in December, and union employees have been working without a national contract ever since.
However, it appears matters have come to a head, with the strike garnering support from California community leaders, religious figures and influential politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.