Kaiser, union coalition return to bargaining table
- Kaiser Permanente will resume bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions made up of 11 labor unions and 85,000 members across seven states: California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
- Bargaining will take place April 17-19, months after the coalition's national agreement with the health system ended Sept. 30. The coalition's complaint claiming Kaiser was refusing to bargain was originally filed with the National Labor Review Board in May.
- In their complaint, coalition members claimed Kaiser had violated federal law by proposing a ban on employees speaking out about patient care issues or taking action against the company through ballot initiatives, legislation or public campaigns. The NLRB subsequently issued charges against Kaiser. A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for April 22.
The resumption of talks comes as hospitals and health systems throughout the country are dealing with labor relations issues — which occasionally result in strikes.
Bargaining between Kaiser and unions has been rife with trouble over the past year. Internal disagreements within the coalition triggered the departure of 22 unions the day before bargaining was set to begin in March. Those unions, now known as the Alliance of Health Care Unions, as well as Kaiser nurses represented by the California Nursing Association (the founding sect of National Nurses United) came to terms with Kaiser independently.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, anchored by the 45,000-member SEIU-UHW, remained without a contract. SEIU-UHW staged dozens of protests against Kaiser in 2018, before and after their agreement expired at the end of September.
The health system and unions issued a joint statement last week announcing the scheduled session. Both sides agreed to "interest-based bargaining" sessions, to be held over the next few weeks.
"We are eager to continue our partnership with Kaiser Permanente to strengthen patient care at its facilities throughout the country, but not under the conditions they demanded that would have put patients and caregivers at risk," the coalition's secretary treasurer Tamara Rubyn said in a separate statement.
Meanwhile, negotiations between the New York City Hospital Alliance and the New York State Nurses Association have fallen through. The union's 10,000 nurses last month threatened a strike set to start Tuesday after demands for higher nurse-to-patient staffing ratios were turned down by the three major health systems that make up the hospital group. Though the strike threat was rescinded, negotiations have reportedly turned sour.
Nurses unions in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have been pushing for legislation to set mandatory nurse staffing ratios. A ballot measure in the latter state was rejected in November. Days before the election, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission estimated the ballot would cost hospitals in that state up to $949 million a year.
In Pennsylvania, safe staffing legislation has received bipartisan support from the state chambers and governor. State lawmakers, unions and advocacy groups representing 20,000 nurses introduced twin safe staffing bills in late March, legislation that addresses the "growing patient-care crisis, driven by unprecedented short-staffing," a spokeswoman from SEIU Healthcare PA told Healthcare Dive.
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