- A major strike of Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers in southern California has been averted as union members and management reached an agreement on a contract in the early hours of Saturday.
- As many as 28,400 of Kaiser's healthcare workers in the region had been set to walk off the job Monday after giving the nonprofit system the required 10-day strike notice on Nov. 5. It would have been the largest strike in the U.S. so far this year.
- The work stoppage had the potential to significantly disrupt operations at the nonprofit's 14 hospitals and more than 200 clinics in the region, as union members make up about 37% of the workforce there.
One of the main disputes between union workers and Kaiser has been a proposed two-tier wage system that puts incoming employees on a lower scale than existing workers. Union leaders express concerns it could lead to resentment and damage the system's ability to recruit talented workers.
Union members asked for a 4% raise across the board each year for the next three years.
Bargaining has been underway since the spring. Still, the contract expired in September.
The new tentative contract includes safe staffing language, guaranteed across-the-board wage increases through 2025 and new bonus opportunities, according to a new release.
The statement did not mention the two-tiered wage structure, but a person familiar with the negotiations said that structure is not in the agreed upon contract.
Voting on the agreement is scheduled over the next several weeks. If approved, it will have an effective date of Oct. 1.
"These were challenging negotiations, but this tentative agreement demonstrates the strength of our Labor Management Partnership and the unique success it can achieve when we work together," Christian Meisner, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente, said in the statement.
Labor disputes at hospitals have heated up this year as burned out workers at facilities stretched thin by COVID-19 inpatient volumes have negotiated for higher pay and improved staffing ratios.
An open-ended strike at a Tenet hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, has surpassed eight months, and employees are still on the picket line. Another in Buffalo, New York, reached nearly 40 days until the union and management agreed to new contracts that included safe staffing ratios.
A handful of U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sent a letter to Kaiser's CEO urging him and his leadership team to reach an agreement with union leaders. The letter was critical of the Kaiser's proposal, including its two-tier wage system.
"Considering your recent profit margins, we find this offer to be demeaning and unacceptable," according to the letter dated Friday.