Kaiser security officers win first contract

OAKLAND, Calif. ― “Now that we have this new health care, I feel secure that if I get sick, or my kids get sick, I won’t be afraid to take them to the doctor. I haven’t seen a doctor in almost three years, but now I can get all my necessary doctor visits and be comfortable about it.”

That was bargaining committee member Dale Brown’s take on what’s most important in the new nationwide contract Kaiser Permanente security officers have just signed with the international security firm Securitas. Brown, a security officer at Kaiser Permanente’s South Sacramento hospital and mother of a 14-year-old daughter and a 20-year old college student son, spoke with the World after members of SEIU security officers Local 24/7 here voted enthusiastically to ratify the contract. In doing so, they joined fellow Kaiser security officers in Los Angeles, and in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia who have overwhelmingly approved the agreement. Workers in Denver are slated to vote July 27.

Brown said she was always confident the union would be recognized: “I said, we all have to think positively. I believe we are going to get this union. Now that we do have the union,” she added, workers will also be protected by the employer’s recognition of seniority rights, and will be able to file grievances if they experience mistreatment.

The new pact is the first ever for some 2,000 security officers at Kaiser facilities nationwide, four-fifths of whom protect Kaiser facilities in California. It is also the first national contract for private security officers.

The workers, who had come to their union’s Oakland office from around northern California, were visibly jubilant about their victory after years of difficult negotiations, beginning with Inter-Con which refused to recognize the union, leaving the security officers the only group of Kaiser workers without a union contract. This year, after Kaiser shifted its contract to Securitas, the new employer agreed to recognize the union but was not at first prepared to provide health care.

But the union members were also serious about the need to be vigilant on the job, to make sure the contract’s provisions will be carried out. Lead Organizer Samuel Kehinde led the group in a lively discussion about the role, importance and training of shop stewards.

Before the vote, Local 24/7 members recounted their experiences during the time they lacked health coverage. One worker said it had cost hundreds of dollars to care for his young daughter after she fell and struck her head. Another was told by his doctor that he needed an MRI for his injured sciatic nerve. Informed the scan would cost $1,000, he returned to the doctor, who proposed an alternative test costing “almost that much.”

Now workers will have health coverage with Kaiser at modest premiums with small co-pays and no deductible. All workers will see some increase in their hourly wages, and for many the pay hike will be greater because new minimum rates will go into effect. Securitas has also agreed to recognize seniority from the date workers started with Inter-Con, and to recognize workers’ rights to elect shop stewards and to be visited on the job by union representatives.

In a conversation after the meeting, Local 24/7 Vice President Teresita Cruz observed that the Kaiser contract will expire in 2012 ― the same year as the master contract that covers some 4,000 security officers working for private security firms in San Francisco and East Bay office buildings.

The Kaiser security officers’ agreement “sets a platform for them to move forward in their next contract,” and establishes a good base for all area security workers including those covered by the master contract, she said.