.Kaiser workers to vote on proposed labor agreement after historic strike

Kaiser Permanente and a coalition of unions representing 85,000 of its workers have reached a tentative contract agreement that would prevent another strike if workers approve the deal. 

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West announced the agreement on social media a little after 4am Friday, Oct. 13, after a marathon negotiation session. 

The announcement was welcome news nationally and prompted President Joe Biden to praise the company and union officials for potentially avoiding further labor strife.  

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“Health care workers and support staff kept our hospitals—and our nation—going during the dark months of the pandemic,” Biden said in a written statement. “They had our backs during one of our nation’s toughest times. We must continue to have theirs.”

The two sides had been negotiating since April, but the union called a three-day strike over what it said were unfair labor practices, staffing shortages and wages. The strike ended the morning of Saturday, Oct. 7, and included 85,000 members of the SEIU-UHW and aligned unions, including roughly 19,000 Bay Area Kaiser employees. Approximately 4,500 of the employees work at Kaiser facilities in Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Solano counties.

At the time, union officials said they would call for another strike if the two sides couldn’t work out a deal on several outstanding items, including staffing levels, job training, outsourcing and pay. 

The proposed agreement was reached with the help of Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su and includes a 21% pay raise over four years, a new minimum wage for Kaiser workers—$25 an hour in California and $23 an hour in other states—”protective terms around subcontracting and outsourcing” intended to keep veteran health care workers in their jobs, streamlined hiring practices, increased training and education funding and mass hiring events. 

“What the parties have achieved here in Oakland demonstrates, once again, that collective bargaining works. When workers have a voice and a seat at the table, it can result in historic gains for workers, their employer and our country,” Su said.

The walkout, which the union says was the nation’s largest ever health care strike, impacted hundreds of Kaiser hospitals, clinics and offices in California, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Washington, D.C. and included licensed vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, radiology technicians, ultrasound sonographers, teleservice representatives and respiratory therapists, among others, but not doctors. 

“Millions of Americans are safer today because tens of thousands of dedicated healthcare workers fought for and won the critical resources they need and that patients need,” said Caroline Lucas, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. “This historic agreement will set a higher standard for the healthcare industry nationwide.”

Union members must still vote to ratify the agreement, a process that is expected to start Wednesday, Oct. 18.

“We believe that this new contract will actually help us continue to have some of the best employees in healthcare, and with those employees we’ll be able to deliver on our mission of providing high quality, affordable and accessible health care,” said Greg Holmes, Kaiser’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer.

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