Unions and Kaiser Permanente Reach Tentative Agreement, Averting Strike

Kaiser Permanente workers at a rally near the Oakland Medical Center on Sept. 2, 2019. (Laura Klivans/KQED)

Kaiser Permanente and a coalition of 11 unions that represent the health care provider's employees in several states, including California, reached a tentative contract deal on Wednesday. The four-year agreement includes wage increases, a workforce development program and stronger restrictions on outsourcing.

“This agreement will allow us to rebuild the worker-management partnership that has been so important to all of us in making Kaiser successful over the last 20 years,” said Georgette Bradford, an ultrasound technologist at Kaiser in Sacramento, in a union press release. “Reaching an agreement was not easy, it had lots of twists and turns, but in the end we accomplished what we set out to do — reach an agreement that is good for patients, workers and our communities.”

The deal comes after months of bargaining and several demonstrations by members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. Workers were threatening a nationwide strike in mid-October that would have involved more than 80,000 employees. The threat of this strike has now been withdrawn, according to Kaiser Permanente.

“We greatly respect and value our employees who deliver on our mission every day,” said Arlene Peasnall, interim chief human resources officer of Kaiser Permanente Health Plan and Hospitals, in a statement. “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."

“Kaiser Permanente has an unparalleled track record of working constructively with labor to solve problems together to improve the care and service offered to our members and patients,” Peasnall added. “We may disagree at times, but we have always been able to work through our challenges to align on common goals.”

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All employees covered by the contract, which spans seven states and Washington, D.C., will receive wage increases. The contract covers only Kaiser Permanente employees whose unions are part of the coalition, the bulk of whom are based in California.

The roughly 67,000 California-based employees included in the agreement will receive annual raises of 3% through 2023. The deal also outlines full protection of retirement benefits and a ban on subcontracting.

Notably, the agreement will create a $130 million program to reduce the shortage of health care workers in California.

"We’re not aware of a similar arrangement in a similar industry, and certainly not at this scale," said Sean Wherley of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, one of the unions in the coalition. "This is something the workers have been pushing for in bargaining."

The tentative agreement now goes to members of the coalition for ratification. Voting is expected to be completed by the end of October.

If ratified, the contract will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2019, and will cover many of Kaiser Permanente's workers in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Hawaii and Washington, D.C.

KQED's Alice Woelfle contributed to this story.