- More than 50,000 union workers for Kaiser Permanente have voted to ratify a four-year contract after months of contentious negotiations and narrowly averting a major strike.
- The deal, which secures across-the-board wage increases through 2025 and new safe staffing language, will affect employees in 22 unions that fall under the umbrella of the Alliance of Health Care Unions. AHCU took the lead on bargaining.
- Both labor leaders and company management came out in support of the new deal on Thursday, as healthcare systems across the country continue to face acute labor unrest and staffing concerns as the pandemic approaches its third year.
Kaiser healthcare workers were successful in many of their demands in the new contract.
"These negotiations were difficult, especially as our members are still battling the pandemic, but in the end the parties affirmed a joint commitment to working together, in partnership, to ensure the best future for union members, Kaiser Permanente, and our patients," Hal Ruddick, executive director of Alliance of Health Care Unions, said in a statement.
Workers were adamantly opposed to a proposal from Kaiser officials to create a two-tier wage system, which called for paying new workers less than the current scale. Union officials worried that arrangement would divide members and create resentment and hinder the organization's ability to recruit top talent.
Contract negotiations dragged on for months and almost resulted in a strike that would have been the largest in the U.S. this year.
Certain Kaiser workers were close to walking off the job. In October, workers in the southern California region voted to authorize a strike and sent the required 10-day strike notice to administration officials.
The strike had the potential to cripple operations in the region as the 21,000 union members poised to strike represented about 28% of Kaiser's nearly 76,000 employees in southern California, where the system operates 14 hospitals and more than 200 clinics.
However, the strike was ultimately averted as the unions and Kaiser reached a tentative agreement in November.
The latest deal also ensures that Kaiser's unique and historic labor-management deal with the unions and workers lives on.
"This contract reflects our deep appreciation for the extraordinary commitment and dedication of our employees throughout our response to the COVID-19 pandemic while also ensuring that we remain affordable for our members in the future," said Christian Meisner, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser.
Kaiser healthcare workers are not alone in demands for better pay and staffing. Healthcare workers across the country have been fighting for better contracts after more than a year into the pandemic that has left them exhausted and burned out.