Strike avoidance and tentative agreement between Kaiser Permanente and Alliance of Health Care Unions is a “win for patients”

After labor-management relations and a strike authorization vote drew national attention to Kaiser Permanente, the managed care organization and the Alliance of Health Care Unions reached a tentative agreement this month, which also includes the completion of Kaiser’s first-ever contract with its Hawaii employees. 

 

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Kaiser is Hawaii’s only Medicare health plan and covers over 259,000 members. Two branches of Kaiser health care workers — about 60 therapists and over 100 pharmacists — are represented by United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) under the Alliance of Health Care Unions and have been negotiating with Kaiser management throughout the pandemic. 

UNAC/UHCP held a strike authorization vote late last month over previously proposed wage cuts for new workers, which was overwhelmingly approved by both the pharmacist and therapists units.

 

Image: UNAC/UHCP

 

UNAC/UHCP issued a strike notification to Kaiser, which was then canceled after the parties reached a tentative agreement on Nov. 13. 

Details of the tentative agreement, according to a statement from Kaiser, are below: 

  • Wage increases: Guaranteed across-the-board wage increases each year through 2025 in every region for all Alliance-represented employees.
  • Health benefits: No reductions or takeaways to already low-cost family medical and dental coverage with the same low co-pays for prescriptions and office visits.
  • Retirement benefits: The Agreement maintains generous retirement income benefits and employer-subsidized retiree medical.
  • Bonus opportunities: Introduction of the Alliance Bonus Plan, which provides annual payouts for achieving new mutually-agreed to objectives to address affordability.
  • New safe staffing and workload language: Will ensure every Kaiser Permanente patient receives extraordinary care every time and in every place.
  • Opportunities for career growth: Alliance-represented employees will continue to have excellent career development and advancement opportunities.
  • The Alliance and Kaiser Permanente have agreed to form a national Affordability and Competitiveness Task Force with specific targets to find innovative ways to address issues of affordability while continuing to work together to protect high-quality patient care. 

Dominic Cerra, Hawaii pharmacist represented by UNAC/UHCP, said the new agreement would ensure a high standard of care for Kaiser patients. 

“What we were mainly fighting for were fair wages, particularly for the high quality of care that patients have been known to expect from Kaiser.”

Cerra said fair wages for health care workers would both reduce staff turnover and limit the need to hire and train less qualified workers.

Matthew Piskura, an Oahu home health physical therapist and bargaining team member, said that establishing a union contract created a transparent labor-management relationship that allows health care workers to focus on caring for patients.

“I’m a professional physical therapist — that’s what I’m good at. But by organizing and having a professional union representing you, having members be a part of that union, you get the best of both worlds. [You know] what is [happening] from the professional standpoint, but also having people from the union standpoint that can help resolve issues and advocate for employees. Again, the biggest picture is advocating for the organization as a whole.”

To ensure the four-year agreement is honored throughout its duration, Cerra said there will be a chain of command that union members can contact. A unique steward will be located at each Kaiser facility to relay any concerns to management, as well as engage in a negotiation process.

Union members are set to vote on the tentative agreement over the next several weeks.