Where labor negotiations stand at Kaiser: 10 things to know

Kelly Gooch -

Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente has been in labor negotiations with unions representing workers across the health system.

Here are 10 things to know:

1. Kaiser and the Alliance of Health Care Unions reached a tentative four-year contract on Nov. 13. The deal averts a strike and covers about 50,000 workers in more than 20 local unions.

2. The agreement between the alliance and Kaiser includes new staffing language and guarantees across-the-board annual wage increases through 2025 for all alliance-represented workers, Kaiser and the alliance said in a joint news release. The deal also maintains benefits and offers career development and advancement opportunities for union employees.

3. The agreement between the alliance and Kaiser does not include a proposed two-tiered wage system that that would pay starting employees less than their more experienced colleagues. This proposal was among the key sticking points in negotiations, ultimately leading about 40,000 Kaiser workers in Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii to announce plans to strike in November. With the tentative deal, alliance unions have canceled their strike notifications.

4. Alliance unions that called strike notifications include locals of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, United Food & Commercial Workers, United Steelworkers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Kaiser Permanente Registered Nurse Anesthetists, International Union of Operating Engineers, American Federation of Teachers, UNITE HERE, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and Hawaii Nurses and Healthcare Professionals. Alliance workers are in the Kaiser regions of Southern California, Northern California, Oregon and Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, Georgia, and Hawaii.

5. Outside of the alliance negotiations, nearly 2,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians plan to strike Nov. 19 in solidarity with members of the Stationary Engineers Local 39, over concerns about waiting times for therapy appointments and the caseloads faced by therapists, according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the workers. Engineers have been striking at Kaiser facilities in Northern California since September, and National Union of Healthcare Workers will only strike Nov. 19 if the engineers are still without a contract.

6. Willow Thorsen, a Kaiser social worker in Santa Rosa, Calif., said in a news release: "Every time we've gone on strike to demand better care for our patients, the engineers have joined us on the picket line. We're striking now to stand up for our colleagues and our patients, who are being denied the care they need."

7. Kaiser Senior Vice President of Human Resources Arlene Peasnall, in a statement shared with Becker's Hospital Review Nov. 9, noted actions Kaiser has taken to address the shortage of caregivers, including adding hundreds of new mental health clinicians over the last five years and investing $30 million to build a pipeline to educate and train new mental health professionals in California.

8. Ms. Peasnall said the real issue at the bargaining table is how much therapists earn, and Kaiser is working to address the challenge of healthcare being increasingly unaffordable.

9. On Nov. 15, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West announced that healthcare workers representing the union's 36,000 Kaiser members in Northern California have also authorized a one-day sympathy strike Nov. 18 in solidarity with members of the Stationary Engineers Local 39. 

10. Also on Nov. 15, Kaiser Permanente and the Guild for Professional Pharmacists announced a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract for pharmacists in Northern California. Kaiser said in a news release that the tentative deal includes guaranteed across-the-board wage increases each contract year, as well as higher incentive bonus opportunities. Read more about the agreement here.

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