Union protesters to picket at Kaiser South Sacramento

Kaiser Permanente won’t launch contract negotiations with the 55,000 workers represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West until late March, but the saber-rattling will begin on Valentine’s Day as three weeks of statewide protests launch with a demonstration outside the HMO’s South Sacramento facility.

Given what the health-care giant has proposed to other unions, SEIU-UHW expects the company to propose that it be allowed to pay new hires in Sacramento and the Central Valley less than what it pays those in the Bay Area, said spokesman Sean Wherley.

“They want to reduce the wages for new hires in Sacramento by up to 10 percent,” Wherley said. “They want to reduce the wages for new hires in the Central Valley by up to 20 percent, and this is despite the company sitting on $32 billion in reserves. There’s really no explanation for why they would do this because they’re doing the same work. They should receive the same pay, regardless of where they live in California.”

John Nelson, the vice president of communications at Kaiser Permanente, said Kaiser has not announced or made any wage proposals for SEIU-UHW members. He said SEIU-UHW is making “misleading and inaccurate statements.”

“We are committed to providing our employees excellent wages and benefits wherever they work,” Nelson said. “We respect and value all of our employees, and we are proud that Kaiser Permanente is regularly recognized as a best place to work, providing competitive wages and benefits.”

Both the company and the union made it clear that the picketing will not affect access to patient care. Union representative Bernice Sical, an admitting representative at Kaiser South, invited the HMO’s members to join them from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the informational picket at 6600 Bruceville Rd. in Sacramentoto learn more about their concerns. She said union members will join the picketing when they are not working. Nelson said Kaiser physicians and employees will remain focused on delivering high-quality, affordable care and improving the health of the communities we serve.

SEIU-UHW represents a variety of different workers -- admitting representatives, radiology technologists, lab techs, housekeepers, dietary aides, and maintenance employees, for instance. Through March 9, they will be staging 32 informational pickets at Kaiser facilities across California.

Sical said that equal work in California should receive equal pay and that any reduction in pay will hurt the broader community.

“Where’s that money going to go?” Sical said. “It’s not going to go back into restaurants or other businesses in our community. The economy is going to get hit.”

Nelson said that Kaiser hopes the SEIU-UHW is interested in working productively with the company as a partner. When bargaining with a union in its coalition, Nelson said, Kaiser uses an interest-based problem-solving approach that allows the parties to identify shared interests, propose ways to meet those interests, and agree on solutions. This process yields mutually beneficial results that preserve – and improve – workplace relationships and partnership, he said.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee