Kaiser Unions Optimistic that Members will Approve Offer

Kaiser Permanente management and a coalition of three health care worker unions reached tentative contract agreement before a seven-day strike planned for Oct. 14.

Labor and management negotiators reached agreement on Sept. 25, but the contract must be ratified by a vote of union rank and file. Voting is scheduled to be finished by the end of October. If approved, the contract will be retroactive to Oct. 1.

SEIU spokesman Sean Wherley said he expects membership to agree to the contract.

The agreement will affect 85,000 Kaiser workers in California, five other states and the District of Columbia, including 24,000 employees in the Bay Area and 560 in the Valley. The union represents hundreds of job classifications, from maintenance and service workers, to optometrists and pharmacists.

Highlights of the agreement include raises of 3% in each of the contract’s four years for workers in California, Oregon, and southern Washington.

In the remainder of Washington state and in Colorado, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, workers will have raises of 3% the first year, and 2% plus a 1% lump sum the following three years. In those states, workers will have the ability to turn the lump sum into regular raises, if the company achieves certain financial performance benchmarks, according to a management news release.

Another accomplishment for workers is what the union called a “ground-breaking workforce development program to provide educational opportunities for thousands of workers to receive a free education” connected to helping fill an expected shortage of hundreds of thousands of licensed healthcare jobs. Kaiser will provide $130 million for the program over the four years of the contract.

The new contract also restores the cooperative relationship that both sides said had been in operation in past years, until the SEIU strike threat.

Wherley, the union spokesman, said the contract will “revitalize the longstanding worker-management partnership, and accomplish a set of goals to make sure Kaiser is the best place to receive and give care.”

Arlene Peasnall, interim chief human resources officer for Kaiser, said that “this agreement is a testament to the dedication, compassion and skill those employees bring to work every day.” She said Kaiser has a “track record to solve problems together to improve the care and service offered to our members and patients.”

“We may disagree at times, but we have always been able to work through our challenges to align on common goals,” Peasnall said.