By Sheri Williams
Tens of thousands of Kaiser Permanente union workers in California and across the nation have won a new tentative contract with the health care giant that brings wage increases and protections against outsourcing.
The news came days after a coalition of unions representing healthcare workers announced a seven-day strike that would have taken place in October and included more than 80,000 members in California, five other states and the District of Columbia. The coalition that planned the strike represents more than 300 unions and affiliates, including Service Employees International Union, Office and Professional Employees International Union and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. It would have been the largest strike in the country since the 1997 Teamsters strike against United Parcel Service.
“The historic agreement revitalizes the long-standing worker-management partnership, protects good, middle class jobs, bans subcontracting and strengthens protections against outsourcing, and establishes a $130 million workforce development program,” said a union statement outlining the proposed deal. “This is a huge win for workers, patients, and our communities. We still have to lock it in – ratification begins on Oct. 1 – but for now, let’s celebrate the incredible solidarity and hard work that produced this agreement!”
On Labor Day weekend, Kaiser union workers in Sacramento staged a march beginning at the Capitol to draw attention to stalled negotiations. More than 1,000 people participated, with some shutting down a major intersection at 5th and J Streets in front of a Kaiser building downtown.
“Many of you have worked for Kaiser not just for years but for more than a decade. Kaiser does, (and) can provide very good care and that is why you are there,” said state Senator Richard Pan, who spoke before the rally. “That’s why you decide to work for a health care facility, because what you do matters, what you do really matters in people’s lives. … We need to be sure that the institution of Kaiser that we are working for is upholding the values in which we came to work for. Those values are what we are here to fight for. Kaiser does a lot of good things and that’s because you do them. … I am proud to stand here with you today to say we want to take care of patients first.”
Other workers echoed the theme that better conditions for employees were the first step toward better patient care.
“We believe the only way to ensure our patients get the best care is to take this step,” Eric Jines, a Los Angeles Kaiser employee, told media during the event. “Our goal is to get Kaiser to stop committing unfair labor practices and get back on track as the best place to work and get care. There is no reason for Kaiser to let a strike happen when it has the resources to invest in patients, communities and workers.”
Kaiser employers demanded and won raises that reflect their contribution to the success of the nonprofit giant, no cuts to benefits, no outsourcing of jobs, no lower pay for new hires, and investments in the workforce of the future.
“My patients are suffering,” Jeffrey Taylor, a Kaiser worker in Sacramento, told media during the march. “They can’t see a doctor due to long wait times. They stopped taking in many Medicaid patients, they’ve been outsourcing our jobs, breaking down our partnership. It seems like they care more about profits than their patients.”