Kaiser Permanente and unions representing nearly 50,000 healthcare workers reached a tentative agreement on a contract Saturday, narrowly avoiding strikes by tens of thousands next week.
The deal is between Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance of Health Care Unions, a coalition of 21 labor organizations including United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, Hawaii Nurses and Healthcare Professionals, and the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
Kaiser Permamente's labor problems aren't over, however. An International Union of Operating Engineers local in northern California, which has been striking since September, remains on the picket line. About 40,000 health system employees represented by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and two other unions plan to join the engineers for a one-day sympathy strike Thursday, despite the health system's separate agreement with the Alliance of Health Care Unions, an SEIU-UHW spokesperson wrote in an email.
The Alliance of Health Care Unions' economic subcommittee agreed to the draft contract Saturday. A larger panel will vote next, after which the unions' members will vote on ratification before the four-year contract is finalized, a process the coalition predicts will take weeks. The deal would be retroactive to Oct. 1, the date on which the previous Alliance contracts expired.
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"This agreement will mean patients will continue to receive the best care, and Alliance members will have the best jobs," Hal Ruddick, executive director of the Alliance of Health Care Unions, said in a news release. "This contract protects our patients, provides safe staffing and guarantees fair wages and benefits for every Alliance member."
Under the tentative agreement, workers will receive annual wage increases through 2025, no cuts to medical and dental benefits, opportunities for bonuses through a newly created plan and will be protected by new safe staffing language, the news release said.
Negotiations between the health system and the union had been hung up over a two-tier wage system that Kaiser Permanente proposed, which would have offered lower compensation to new hires compared to current employees. Neither party would comment on if the two-tier structure is included in the tentative contract, but it was not listed in the terms shared publicly.
"This landmark agreement positions Kaiser Permanente for a successful future focused on providing high-quality healthcare that is affordable and accessible for our more than 12 million members and the communities we serve. It also underscores our unwavering commitment to our employees by maintaining industry-leading wages and benefits," Christian Meisner, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente, said in the news release. "These were challenging negotiations, but this tentative agreement demonstrates the strength of our Labor Management Partnership and the unique success it can achieve when we work together."
The Labor Management Partnership is a 24-year-old agreement between the health system and its unions—now called the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions and the Alliance of Health Care Unions—to jointly make decisions about patient care, access and quality.