Kaiser And Health Worker Unions Announce Tentative Deal, Strike Is Canceled
Monday's strike called by unions representing Kaiser Permanente workers has been canceled, according to an email sent to members of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals:
"We've reached a tentative agreement with Kaiser Permanente on a new four-year contract early this morning."
The message notes that Kaiser's proposal to implement a two-tier pay system — the most contentious issue in the negotiations — "did not make it into the final agreement."
"The Common Issues Committee, or CIC, will vote in a few hours on whether to approve it and bring it to members for ratification," the email reads.
A Kaiser statement confirmed the agreement with the Alliance of Health Care Unions and said "voting on the tentative agreement will occur over the next several weeks. If ratified, the agreement will have an effective date of October 1, 2021."
A walkout would have affected 366 Kaiser facilities in Southern California. In all, failure to reach a deadline would have sent 28,400 unionized nurses, therapists, physician assistants and other health workers to the the strike lines.
The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals and the United Steelworkers Local 7600 filed a 10-day notice with Kaiser on Nov. 4. The forewarning is required by federal law so health facilities can prepare. Negotiations have been ongoing, with an agreement reached Saturday morning, two days before the walkout was set to begin.
The two sides have been in talks for months over staffing shortages, salaries and a proposed two-tiered wage system. Kaiser proposed lower wages for future hires than for current employees, which the company said would help keep costs down without cutting pay. It became a major sticking point for the unions and was eventually taken off the table.
“Any smart employer facing a strike in a health care context, if they care about patient outcomes, is not going to force their dedicated longtime staff out of that facility and onto picket lines,” said Jane McAlevey, senior policy fellow at the Institute on Labor and Employment Relations at UC Berkeley.
McAlevey says the two-tier wage systems have become common in the U.S., as unions lose their collective bargaining power.
“It is primarily driven by a desire not just to save cost, but actually also to weaken the coherence and the sense of collective spirit among a unionized workforce, because it has a really deleterious and divisive and corrosive effect on how workers relate to each other,” McAlevey said.
Kaiser issued a statement saying the agreement includes guaranteed across-the-board wage increases each year through 2025 in every region for all Alliance-represented employees, and no reductions or takeaways to employees' healthcare benefits.
The Alliance of Health Care Unions also represents workers in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and several other states, but the vast majority of them are in Southern California, where the impact of a strike would have been greatest.