Kaiser Permanente Strike Ends — For Now

Dive Brief:

  • A historic three-day strike at Kaiser Permanente hospitals concluded Saturday without resulting in a new contract deal for employees. More than 75,000 workers represented by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions have returned to their jobs — at least for now. On Friday, the coalition said it may issue another 10-day strike notice for a longer work stoppage if a deal isn’t reached.
  • Kaiser and the unions will meet to negotiate contract terms this week on Thursday and Friday. U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Julie Su plans to join the bargaining sessions, Labor Department press secretary Veronica Yoo said in a statement.
  • The strike, which began on Oct. 4, caused disruptions to some Kaiser patient services, the nonprofit said on its website last week. More than half of the company’s 106 laboratories in Southern California were closed on Friday, and some laboratory services continue to be disrupted this week. Almost two dozen medical offices were also closed last week in Oregon and Washington, and an additional 11 facilities temporarily shut down departments.

Dive Insight:

Coalition members authorized a strike in a series of local votes held around the country last month. Members accused Kaiser of failing to pay wages that kept pace with inflation and said the nonprofit health system’s staffing levels were insufficient to meet patients’ needs.

“We need to have solutions for our staffing crisis,” Jeffrey Sanders, a contract specialist for SEIU Local-49 and member of this year’s bargaining team, told Healthcare Dive last month.  “We need to have our workers earning a livable wage where they can take a job without having to work multiple jobs, without having to live out of their cars.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have quit the field in droves as they burned out, retired early or exited the field for more profitable industries. Though the immediate pressures of the public health emergency have abated, recruitment and retention remain difficult for nonprofit health systems like Kaiser, according to a report from Fitch Ratings released last week.

Kaiser has argued it’s hiring aggressively and leads the industry in pay. The health system said it has hired over 10,000 people into union-represented jobs this year. Kaiser said it has also agreed to “increased wages across the board for all Coalition-represented employees” during bargaining sessions. Previously, the coalition had advocated for annual pay increases from 5.57% to 6.5%, according to an Oct. 1 update. Kaiser had not previously agreed to that amount.

The parties have come to some tentative agreements during the protracted bargaining process, which has now entered its seventh month.

Hilary Costa, communications manager for Kaiser, said on Oct. 4 that the parties agreed to update the Performance Sharing Plan to include both a minimum payout opportunity and a potential for up to a $3,750 payment. Kaiser will also invest in tuition assistance and training programs. On Oct. 2, the unions announced Kaiser had tentatively agreed to a 40% increase to union members’ education fund.

However, the parties remain apart on other issues. The coalition, which represents employees in positions ranging from licensed vocational nurses to call center representatives, is seeking protections from outsourcing.

“Outsourcing of critical health care duties has become a key sticking point in negotiations in recent days, as Kaiser executives have refused to put limitations on subcontracting and outsourcing, which keep experienced health care workers in jobs and provide strong continuity of care for patients,” the coalition said in a statement released Friday.

The Department of Labor, which has recently weighed in on strikes in other industries including the historic United Auto Workers strike, said in a statement that it welcomes labor and management returning to the table Thursday.

“As the President and the Acting Secretary have said, collective bargaining works, even when it takes time. We are glad to see the parties going back to the bargaining table,” a spokesperson for the department said by email.

Elsewhere in the country, healthcare workers are also taking to the picket line in protest of staffing levels and wages. On Monday, 1,500 registered nurses and healthcare workers represented by SEIU-UHW, the largest union in the Kaiser coalition, launched a five-day strike at St. Francis Medical Center in Los Angeles. In New Jersey, the strike of over 1,700 nurses at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital entered its third month this week as management and labor fail to agree on safe staffing reform.


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