Health & Medicine

Kaiser’s biggest union, representing 57,000 California workers, ratifies four-year contract

Roughly 57,000 Kaiser Permanente workers, all working in California, ratified a four-year labor contract agreement that protects certain jobs from outsourcing and creates a program that aims to diminish a national shortage of health care workers, union leaders announced Wednesday.

“Our new contract recognizes the skill and dedication we bring to our work, and the guaranteed raises and protected benefits give us the peace of mind to focus on caring for our patients,” said Jessica Rodriguez, an emergency department technician at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. “We are also proud to have negotiated an agreement that is focused on the future and making sure patients have access to highly skilled and trained caregivers in the years to come.”

Rodriguez is a member of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West. SEIU and two other international labor groups — the Office and Professional Employees International Union and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers — have 83,000 members in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

SEIU-UHW is the largest of the 11 local union chapters in the coalition, and its members work throughout California. The coalition also has members in Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia and Washington. All are voting on the same agreement. Depending on the union local, ballots will be collected as late as Oct. 30, but most voting will conclude by Saturday.

In Colorado, more than 7,000 SEIU workers announced Oct. 11 that they had voted to ratify the agreement, and on Oct. 9, about 4,500 SEIU workers ratified it in Oregon and southwest Washington.

The contract agreement gives workers in California and the Northwest region an across-the-board wage increase of 3 percent a year. In Colorado, Hawaii, the mid-Atlantic states, and Washington, workers will get a 3 percent wage increase across the board in the first year and 2 percent in subsequent years. They will also receive a lump sum payment equal to 1 percent of pay in the final three years, and if the company meets certain sustained performance targets, that lump sum would convert into an across-the-board wage increase of 1 percent.

Management will also work with labor to set up a committee that will work to ensure that Kaiser’s caregivers can apply a patient-centered approach when integrating cutting-edge technology. Both sides also agreed to continue to seek innovative ways to improve job conditions and lower costs while also advancing patient care.

The labor agreement narrowly averted an Oct. 14 strike that had been scheduled in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.