- Representatives from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions and Kaiser Permanente’s labor relations team head to San Francisco today for a final two-day bargaining session, in what is a last push to negotiate a contract for 85,000 healthcare workers before the current contract expires Sept. 30.
- Should the negotiations fail, nearly 80,000 workers, representing 90% of the coalition, have voted to strike, coalition executive director Caroline Lucas told Healthcare Dive.
- If the strike happens, it would be the largest in the industry’s history based on data available from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The largest number of healthcare industry workers involved in a major work stoppage was 53,000 in 2018, according to BLS data collected between 1993 and 2021.
Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health plans and a massive healthcare operator, with 39 hospitals and more than 600 medical offices across eight states and Washington, D.C. The system has successfully negotiated contracts with healthcare workers for years and last reached a consensus with the coalition in 2019.
Parties agree that current contract negotiations, which began in April, center around staffing levels and wages. The coalition most recently demanded a $25 per hour minimum wage and a 26.5% wage increase over four years. The union also has called for Kaiser to hire additional staff beyond replacing those lost to attrition, Lucas said.
Kaiser has pledged to hire 10,000 workers by the end of this year and has filled 8,700 positions to-date, according to its labor relations department. In its Sept. 7 offer, the health system proposed an enterprise-wide minimum wage of $21 per hour and a wage increase of between 10 to 14% for coalition workers over the next four years. Kaiser pointed to variable market conditions as a factor in its compensation decisions.
“We strive to pay more than other employers pay for the same jobs in the same area. And we do this in every market where we operate so we can attract and retain the best employees,” Kaiser’s labor relations department said in the Sept. 7 statement. “And while our commitment and compensation philosophy are consistent across Kaiser Permanente, the economic realities are very different from market to market.”
When negotiations appeared to be at an impasse in August, the coalition announced it was ready to strike. Voting kicked off in Denver on Aug. 26 and concluded on Sept. 20. Overwhelmingly, Kaiser healthcare workers authorized the strike, Lucas said.
In an email to Healthcare Dive, a Kaiser spokesperson said the system has been “bargaining in good faith.”
“Our priority is to reach an agreement that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits. Before the national agreement expires on September 30, we are confident we’ll reach an agreement that strengthens our position as a best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access,” the spokesperson said.
Lucas said that while she remains hopeful for an agreement, she is “not optimistic," particularly after management declined to meet in person with union representatives during the last negotiation session. She said that while the union is prepared to bargain “24/7” to reach an agreement, she isn’t confident that there is enough time left on the clock.
“Those are complicated issues and they're things that require deep commitment and data sharing and engagement,” Lucas said. “They cannot be done at the 12th hour.”
Should a strike occur, a Kaiser spokesperson said the system has “comprehensive plans to ensure continued access to needed health care services.”