Kaiser Permanente and the California Nurses Association tentatively agreed to a four-year contract that includes pay and benefit boosts, promises to hire more staff, and provide new worker safety protections, the health system and the union announced Friday.
The deal averts a looming strike by 21,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners at 21 Kaiser Permanente locations in Northern California, which would have been a larger work stoppage than the 15,000-worker Minnesota Nurses Association strike in August.
The California Nurses Association's chief grievance was inadequate staffing. Bargaining began in June and employees will vote on ratification in the coming weeks, according to the union, which is affiliated with National Nurses United.
“The tentative agreement honors our Northern California nurses with a market-based economic package that accounts for inflation, accelerates our investments in staffing, and addresses workplace safety, diversity and equity, remote work, and other key matters in a way that is sustainable and benefits our members and patients as well,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement.
The tentative collective bargaining agreement includes a 22.5% wage increase over four years—the largest in 20 years at the Oakland, California-based integrated health system, according to the company and the union—and tuition reimbursement.
Kaiser Permanente agreed to create more than 2,000 new registered nurse and nurse practitioner jobs, including 1,200 graduate positions, 400 specialty training roles, 300 float pool nurses, 80 acute reentry nurses, 50 nurse practitioners and 80 outpatient positions.
“We're very pleased that Kaiser finally took our proposal seriously to fix this crisis of chronic short staffing across the system. It's been very unsafe for our patients, our nurses and our communities—especially with the pandemic,” said Michelle Gutierrez Vo, adult primary care charge nurse Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center.
Unionized nurses responded to grueling working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic by demanding the health system implement stronger systems to protect nurses against future infectious disease outbreaks, prepare contingency plans and training programs, and provide sufficient resources, Gutierrez Vo said.
The contract dictates that the health system maintain a three-month stockpile of personal protective equipment and continually screen for infectious diseases. Kaiser Permanente also promised to develop workplace violence prevention and response plans for all sites, including hospitals, clinics and parking structures.
The union won its demand that Kaiser Permanente create a regional Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee comprising two nurses from each Kaiser Permanente facility working together to address racism in the healthcare system, Gutierrez Vo said.
“The pandemic is demonstrating that nurses are able to identify what our communities need and are willing to fight for it and make sure that we win it for all of our patients,” she said. “We're not just at the bedside, we are out there and we're going to make sure our voices are heard.”
Registered nurses at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center also reached a tentative agreement Friday, and will vote on ratification Tuesday.