Kaiser accused of refusing to negotiate labor deal covering 85,000 workers

The National Labor Relations Board has agreed to hold evidentiary hearings regarding a complaint filed by a coalition of labor unions against Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente.

The complaint alleges that Kaiser violated federal law by refusing to negotiate a new contract that covers 85,000 employees in eight states and the District of Columbia, according to the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. The coalition — which filed the complaint  and comprises 11 unions in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia — is also accusing the healthcare giant of setting negotiating conditions that would prohibit unions from political action against Kaiser.

"The [NLRB's] decision confirms what has been clear to workers for months now: Kaiser isn't the labor-friendly employer it claims to be, nor is it as committed to patient care as it claims to be," said Lanette Griffin, a laboratory assistant at Kaiser in South Sacramento, Calif. "If Kaiser was committed to improving patient care, you would expect it to want to negotiate a contract to retain and attract the outstanding caregivers who have driven the corporation's success."

In March, the coalition split into two groups "due to disagreements among its union members over what partnership means," said John Nelson, vice president of communications at Kaiser. Some unions remained in the coalition and others went to a new partnership group called the Alliance of Health Care Unions. This happened the day before bargaining was slated to begin, and negotiations did not move forward at that time.  

Mr. Nelson said the disagreements came after the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West union filed a ballot initiative in California to prohibit health insurers from hiking rates on "covered policies" if the insurer has reserves that are equal to or exceed a specified cap. The initiative was ultimately withdrawn.  

SEIU-UHW, along with other unions in the remaining coalition, subsequently filed a complaint with the NLRB regarding the negotiations.

A new three-year agreement between Kaiser and the Alliance of Health Care Unions has been ratified by all locals in the Alliance, and is in effect. SEIU-UHW's contract does not expire until October.

"As we have said in the past, our preference is to be in partnership with the unions who represent our employees, but for unions who prefer a traditional union-employer relationship to a partnership, we will continue to work fairly and constructively," said Mr. Nelson. "We will continue to bargain with each union in good faith, and we look forward to resolving the issues raised in the NLRB matter."

Kaiser said the NLRB decision is not a verdict but rather the start of the evidentiary hearing process to discuss the case in front of the board. Hearings are expected to start in the spring.

 

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