85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers begin voting on ‘landmark’ new pact

OAKLAND, Calif. (PAI)—Some 85,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers, members of a 12-union-local coalition who had to stage a three-day strike in early October over bosses’ then-refusal to budge in talks, began voting on Oct. 18 on what bargainers called a “landmark” new contract.

The contract, helped with mediation from Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su, a Californian, calls for a 21% raise over its four years, needed because Kaiser’s clinics and workers are in high-cost areas such as the San Francisco Bay area—Kaiser’s home ground—Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, metropolitan Washington, D.C., and Honolulu.

To help with those costs, the new pact also establishes a new healthcare worker hourly minimum wage of $25 in California and $23 elsewhere. And it contains “protective terms around subcontracting and outsourcing, which will keep experienced health care workers in jobs and provide strong continuity of care for patients,” said one of the parent unions involved, the Office and Professional Employees.

The contract also includes a $1,500-per-worker signing bonus and further bonuses keyed to Kaiser’s financial performance over the next four years. There were also health care improvements, said the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU).

All this was added to “a wide variety of initiatives to invest in the workforce and address the staffing crisis, including streamlining hiring practices, increased training and education funding, mass hiring events, and a commitment to upskill existing workers and invest in the training of future health care workers,” OPEIU’s statement of the settlement said. OPEIU includes at least four of the CKPU locals. Others include SEIU-United Health Care Workers West.

The Kaiser workers are part of two waves of workers whose activism have swept the nation for the last two years, triggered by—among other reasons—how bosses praised them during the coronavirus pandemic but then exploited them during it and afterwards.

One wave is of low-paid exploited workers, many of them young, women or workers of color in jobs such as adjunct professors, fast food workers, retail workers, warehouse workers, and port truckers, who have had it up to here and revolted by unionizing, voting with their feet for something better, or both. The latest group is workers from several unions forced to strike Detroit’s casinos.

The other is already unionized workers—such as Teamsters at UPS and Auto Workers at the Detroit Three—who have had it up to here with corporate greed. They demand a bigger share of the profits they earn for their companies. Including Kaiser, but not UPS, where workers settled before they had to walk, some 300,000-plus are out.

The next group to go may be 1,100 UAW-represented workers at General Dynamics, a major military contractor. Their contract expires Oct. 21.

“This deal is life-changing for frontline healthcare workers like me, and life-saving for our patients,” Yvonne Esquivel, a pediatric medical assistant in Gilroy, Calif., told OPEIU. “Thousands of Kaiser healthcare workers fought hard for this new agreement, and now we will finally have the resources we need to do the job we love and keep our patients safe.”

They almost had to walk a second time to get it, too. Bargainers had actually given Kaiser a second mandated 10-day strike notice for a walkout to begin Nov. 1—and to also include another 3,000 Kaiser workers in Seattle—before this agreement was reached.

“Good news to hear positive developments in collective bargaining with Kaiser Permanente, especially when it involves addressing staffing shortfalls and concerns and protecting jobs,” said Tamara Rubyn, president/business manager of OPEIU Local 29.

“Contracts like these not only ensure health care workers are well supported but also help maintain the quality of care for patients. Enhanced benefits will attract new workers, and create a more stable and attractive environment for those considering a career in health care. It’s truly a win-win situation.”

“Millions of Americans are safer today because tens of thousands of dedicated healthcare workers fought for and won the critical resources they need and that patients need,” said CKPU Executive Director Caroline Lucas. “This historic agreement will set a higher standard for the healthcare industry nationwide.”

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.