Federal labor panel rules against Kaiser, union says. Health care giant says otherwise

Kaiser Permanente’s south Sacramento hospital.
Kaiser Permanente’s south Sacramento hospital. Sacramento Bee file

Health care giant Kaiser Permanente has been dinged by federal labor regulators, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced Monday.

But Kaiser disputes the conclusion reached by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, representing 85,000 employees, including some 1,300 in Fresno, who are seeking a new contract. The coalition also represents more than 2,000 workers based at Kaiser South Sacramento.

A representative of the National Labor Relations Board wasn’t immediately available for comment Monday.

Sean Wherley, spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, said Monday the NLRB’s finding was announced to the coalition via email. Kaiser Permanente allegedly did it to avoid a condition on “bargaining that would ban unions from engaging in political action” potentially affecting the company, according to a news release from the coalition.

“What it means is that Kaiser has to reach a settlement to begin contract negotiations, and if they don’t, NLRB files a legal complaint or a lawsuit against the company to urge them to resolve the issue,” Wherley said in a phone interview.

In an email, forwarded to The Bee, from NLRB’s regional attorney Christy Kwon to SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West’s general counsel, Bruce Harland, Kwon writes, “If Kaiser doesn’t agree to enter into the settlement I expect us to issue complaint by the end of the month, possibly sooner.”

Kwon didn’t return a call seeking comment.

In a Monday statement, Kaiser said “the union’s announcement does not accurately state the facts.” It says the determination by the NLRB is not a “verdict.”

“It is the beginning of the NLRB’s process to hold evidentiary hearings to fully understand this complicated case,” John Nelson, vice president of communications with Kaiser Permanente, said in the statement. “We are confident the NLRB will agree that Kaiser Permanente has acted lawfully and in good faith in our dealings with SEIU-UHW and the other remaining unions following the breakup of the Coalition and SEIU-UHW.”

The hearings could start next spring.

NLRB’s decision follows a complaint that was filed in May by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which consists of 11 labor unions in eight states, including California, and the District of Columbia, the coalition said.

Wherley said the 85,000 affected employees hold positions across-the-board, except doctors. It includes some nurses, he said.

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro