The Service Employees International Union has called off a one-day strike against Kaiser Permanente clinics in California after the union and the HMO reached a tentative agreement.
The union's 14,000 members in Northern California had been working since October without a contract.
On May 20, the SEIU announced that its workers across the state would picket and strike on May 30 at nearly 200 Kaiser clinics to protest lack of progress in negotiations.
Local 250 President Sal Rosselli said on May 23 that a mediator reached a settlement. The union planned to review the proposal and decide whether to recommend it to the rank and file by May 24.
Kaiser confirmed that a tentative agreement has been reached but declined to comment until the union membership has time to review the proposal.
The SEIU and other unions have targeted Kaiser in a corporate campaign to raise questions about the HMO's direction and restructuring plans, which the SEIU says include "closing hospitals, eliminating services and contracting with outside sources."
SEIU President Andy Stern said, "Kaiser has joined in a shameful and irresponsible race to provide the lowest quality healthcare at the cheapest possible price."
Kaiser contends the issue is not quality but wages. "Our wages are 9% above the market," said Tom Debley, spokesman for Kaiser's Northern California division. "That translates into $10 million a month. We have to contain our labor costs."
The SEIU says 10,000 members of Local 399 in Southern California have been working without a contract for eight weeks, and a contract covering 600 members of Local 535 also has expired. The various locals have formed a bargaining pact to "demand a voice in Kaiser's restructuring plans."
Separately, the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department held a sort of teach-in in Sacramento, Calif., last week to discuss sharpening union power in healthcare purchasing.
"Alarming trends in the healthcare industry have led us to consider a new approach," said Peter DiCicco, secretary treasurer of the Industrial Union Department. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to evaluate quality as well as cost."
Maureen Anderson, spokeswoman for the department, said the union has filed an administrative petition with the state's Department of Corporations about Kaiser's restructuring. "There has been no public discussion. It's our contention that there ought to be hearings on it" because Kaiser is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization that is responsible to the public, she said.