Union workers at Kaiser Permanente have voted by a huge majority to endorse the HMO's pact with the AFL-CIO. It covers 50,000 union workers.
Under the partnership, unveiled in April, the healthcare giant will involve its workers in an unprecedented array of collaborative decisionmaking initiatives (May 5, p. 42).
Union employees will sit on committees from bottom to top, advising on how to increase quality and efficiency. In return, the unions will try to help market Kaiser's services to its members. Among other goals, Kaiser hopes to become the provider of choice among all union workers.
The first meeting of the joint Senior Partnership Committee is scheduled to start June 10. It will review national business strategies and set guidelines for carrying out the partnership at all levels.
"We also plan to establish several initial joint work projects as soon as possible," said Gary Fernandez, Kaiser's senior vice president for labor and management partnerships.
Twenty-four local unions voted on the plan, and all of them approved it. Although the voting ended May 30, the results from three local unions weren't known at deadline.
In terms of individual workers, the balloting was 9-1 in favor of the partnership. About 30% of the eligible workers cast ballots.
"Our top priority is to encourage HMOs to compete on quality, rather than on price alone," said Peter DiCicco, president of the AFL-CIO's industrial union department.
Kaiser has 8.6 million enrollees in 18 states.
The California Nurses Association, the largest unionized group of Kaiser employees outside the national labor federation, took a dim view of the locals' endorsement (See related commentary, p. 42).
In a letter, the CNA challenged Kaiser and the AFL-CIO to clarify what parts of Kaiser's operations and strategy will be exempted from terms governing the partnership.
Under the pact, Kaiser business initiatives already under way will not be stopped or substantially altered because in many cases they're the result of long-range planning.