Kaiser Permanent responds to strike vote by SEIU United Healthcare Workers

In response to the vote to strike by the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers (see related article), John Nelson, Vice President, Communications, Kaiser Permanente issued the following statement:

Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-UHW have been working together toward a mutually beneficial agreement as part of the national bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions that began in April. Unfortunately, UHW leadership has decided to use the threat of a strike as a bargaining tactic, designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente’s position, even though most of the contracts don’t expire until October.

We believe the result of the strike vote reflects obviously misleading ballot questions used by the union:

  • “I vote YES to authorize our bargaining team to call for a strike to protest Kaiser’s illegal behavior and unfair labor practices and to show my support for a contract with good raises, no take-aways and a ban on subcontracting.”
  • “I vote NO and am willing to accept a contract that increases our medical costs, cuts our pensions and retiree medical benefits, offers lower pay scales and raises that are less for Oregon and Washington than California.”

To be clear, Kaiser Permanente has presented a contract proposal that would provide annual pay increases that would keep our employees compensated higher than market averages and maintain excellent benefits. Contrary to the union’s claims, there are no pay cuts and no changes to our employees’ defined pension benefit, under our proposal.

It is important to understand that a strike vote does not mean that a strike is imminent, although it does place Kaiser Permanente in the position of having to spend millions of dollars preparing for the threat of a strike event. Our first priority is always continuity of care for our patients and members.

SEIU-UHW leadership is more interested in a power play to position themselves vis a vis other Kaiser Permanente unions – rather than focusing on what is best for their membership.  At a time when we are working hard to keep our care affordable, the Coalition’s demands are not fair to our members and the communities we serve. Coalition-represented employees are already compensated 23% above market rates—we pay well and we have markets where our wage rates are challenging our ability to be affordable. The Coalition’s proposal would actually increase our wages on average 32% above the market over the next five years, adding a billion dollars to our labor costs.

Despite the union leadership’s disruptive tactics, we are hopeful that our employees will value our proposal and SEIU-UHW and the other Coalition unions will move forward with us to reach a new agreement. Our goal is to continue to make Kaiser Permanente a great place to give and receive care.

Proposed Contract Offer

Kaiser Permanente’s bargaining proposal would provide employees with the following best-in-class conditions:

  • Solid wage increases. The average salary of Coalition-represented employees is already higher than market averages. Mindful of our goal to improve the affordability of health care and engage our employees in the effort, the current proposal provides guaranteed wage increases across the board each year through 2022 of 3% each year in Northern and Southern California.
  • Opportunities for new hires. Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition are proposing a $40 million Workforce Development Fund and creation of new-hire training positions, all part of the solution to address the national shortage of health care workers and help develop the next generation of unionized workers in health care.
  • Retirement security. The proposal preserves the existing defined pension plan along with other strong retirement benefits.
  • Career mobility. The proposal includes a more robust tuition reimbursement program for employees that allows more funds to be used for travel.
  • Affordable health care. The proposal includes a pharmacy utilization approach that incents employees to take greater responsibility for their health by rewarding them for increasing their use of mail-order prescriptions.

Just last year SEIU-UHW touted what it described as “strong wages and benefits” in the agreement it reached with Dignity Health, which included lower wage increases (13% over 5 years plus a one-time 1% bonus) than being offered by Kaiser Permanente, and only $2.5 million for workforce development, as compared to $40 million in Kaiser Permanente’s current proposal. (Source: SEIU-UHW press release, March 2018, http://www.seiu-uhw.org/archives/26114)

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3 Comments to “Kaiser Permanent responds to strike vote by SEIU United Healthcare Workers”

  1. Carolyn Beecher LVN says:

    Does this new proposal include the 1% annual bonus for the employees when the goals are met?

  2. James Bell says:

    What Kaiser didn’t mention was the 15% pay cut for new employees starting in January 2021. These new employees would also have only a “defined contribution program” (401k) as opposed to the pension plans presently negotiated for current employees and a vastly reduced retirement healthcare package.

    This is intended to split our membership in haves and have-nots.

    The idea for a healthcare academy is not Kaiser’s but in fact was proposed by the Coalition in our June sessions.

    Kaiser did not come to the table in April to bargain in good faith. The people they had at the table were not allowed to make any binding agreements with Labor. That’s why the Coalition leadership unanimously voted to move forward with a strike vote.

    Kaiser also failed to mention that on Auguat 21st, they will appear before the NLRB in Oakland to face charges of Unfair Labor Practices against the Coalition going back to March 2018 when our negotiations were supposed to start. Kaiser walked away and then tried to impose preconditions to return to the table.

    As a Bargaining Team member, I have seen these things first hand. Kaiser is not being truthful. I would hope that you would get the full story as opposed to giving tacit approval of Kaiser’s position.

  3. James Bell says:

    What Kaiser is not stating is the strings attached to their offer. As a UHW Bargaining Team member allow me to respond to this proposal from Kaiser.

    First, Kaiser did not present this proposal to the bargaining team. Instead it was emailed to our union leadership at 8:30 pm Pacific Time – literally on the eve of our strike vote. These proposals should be done at the table, not via email or through the media.

    The wage increases (higher here in California as compared to their other regions) are tied to major concessions. Kaiser expects us to accept a two-tier wage structure that would have new employees being paid 15% less than current staff starting in 2021 and receive vastly reduced benefits in regards to retirement healthcare, vacation and sick time. These new employees would also not be part of our existing pension plan.

    Kaiser continues to outsource our bargaining unit work in the pursuit of higher profits. Note, Kaiser is supposed to be a non-profit organization. Also, the use of third party providers in any industry has always resulted in lower quality in services. As healthcare providers, we strive to ensure that all of our patients the best care possible. Kaiser’s efforts to reduce quality only serves to enrich the senior executives. Many of whom make more than $1 million a year.

    Kaiser states in other interviews they offer lucrative contracts to executives to attract the “best talent” for the organization. Why would that philosophy translate into similar hiring practices for front line employee who care for our patients? This shows how badly Kaiser has lost its way.

    The Coalition made the decision to strike unanimously. We began preparing for this event in March of 2018 when Kaiser walked away from the bargaining table and then committed another Unfair Labor Practice by trying to impose preconditions on bargaining in May of 2018. The Alliance of Healthcare Unions, made up of former Coalition unions, chose to accept these preconditions effectively silencing themselves. That was their mistake.

    There is nothing misleading in our ballot statements. We do seek income equity for all of the regions we represent. The fact that Kaiser has made record profits in the first two quarters of 2019, were able to give their CEO a 60% pay raise, fund a $900 million office complex in Oakland and have $300 million available for the Golden State Warrior to get naming rights for their new arena speaks to the fact that Kaiser is not looking at financial difficulties now or in the near future.

    The Coalition joined with Kaiser in a Labor Management Partnership in 1997 when Kaiser we in dire financial straights. We helped Kaiser become the industry leader in California with the understanding that we would reap the benefits from that success. Now that Kaiser is so successful, Bernard Tyson has decided he can now consider a Plan B where he freezes out the people who helped him gain the success he enjoys. This is a sad turn of affairs and a brief perusal of the Alliance of Healthcare Union’s new national agreement shows Kaiser’s intent to damage unions and silence us concerning significant public issues.

    I was at the table from the beginning in April to the last day in July. Kaiser was the one putting roadblock after roadblock in the way of all efforts to negotiate a fair agreement. Kaiser refused to show it’s financial documents that the Coalition repeatedly requested so that we could have a serious discussion about the challenges we face.

    Kaiser isn’t the wounded party here. They committed crimes against its workforce by violating labor laws. We voted to strike and we made sure our employees knew the truth. Kaiser wants to muddy the waters but they are not bargaining in good faith.

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