A striking Kaiser Permanente employee uses a megaphone as she walks in line outside Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center on October 6, 2023 in Vallejo, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions reached a tentative agreement with their employer on a new four-year contract on October 13, 2023. The agreement follows the largest documented health care worker strike in the US, involving more than 75,000 workers in several states and the District of Columbia . A majority of the union’s 85,000 members will need to approve the deal to become final. Voting began on October 18.
The terms of the contract will make Kaiser “able to fulfill our mission of providing high-quality, affordable and accessible health care to our members,” said Kaiser Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Greg Holmes.
The Conversation asked Michael McQuarrie, an Arizona State University sociologist who directs the Center for Jobs and Democracy, to explain what’s in the agreement and why it matters.
What are the terms of the agreement?
Kaiser workers will receive a 21 percent raise over the life of the contract, with 6 percent pay increases in October 2023 and 5 percent in October 2024, 2025 and 2026.
The contract notably also includes a new hourly minimum wage for Kaiser workers in California that will increase to $25 by 2026. This pay level will be required of all California health care employers until then, however, as Gov. of California Gavin Newsom signed a new law to that effect.
In other states, the contract minimum hourly wage will be $23 an hour after all the increases provided for in this new contract are phased in.
The contract also calls for some benefits improvements, such as larger performance-related bonuses. The final agreement reportedly includes a guaranteed performance bonus of at least $1,500 if Kaiser meets financial and patient health metrics.
Bonuses for work shifts that include hours after 5:30 p.m. will rise to $3.25 an hour, workers involved in the negotiations have learned. That means if this contract is ratified, those evening and night shifts would see a $2 raise in the 2019-2023 contract. Without that cash incentive, workers would typically try to get more desirable day shifts, increasing turnover and exacerbating labor shortages. staff at night.
The new contract will also leave in place restrictions on Kaiser’s ability to outsource or subcontract union jobs that were included in the previous contract that Kaiser and the unions agreed to in 2019.
And the coalition of unions agreed to streamline the internal bidding process for open positions to help Kaiser address staffing shortages. The contract also includes provisions for training new health care workers, which the union has been seeking.
Why did the workers consider the strike necessary and did they achieve their goals?
My union contacts told me that they had the impression that Kaiser essentially walked away from negotiations in the weeks leading up to the strike – even though his management team returned to the table at the eleventh hour before the strike began. Negotiations officially began in April 2023.
Unions in the coalition had rejected terms offered by Kaiser at the time, which included lower wages and plans to expand reliance on subcontractors. Kaiser also never responded to the coalition’s latest economic offer until last-minute negotiations failed to avert a strike.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained relations between Kaiser managers and workers to unprecedented levels. United Healthcare Workers West/SEIU, the coalition’s largest union, surveyed its members in 2022 and found a highly stressed workforce that felt management was unresponsive to their concerns. Numerous academic studies support these findings.
Kaiser has sought for months to hire 10,000 new workers by the end of 2023 to fill vacancies that have led to staff shortages and strained the workforce.
That Kaiser’s engagement in union negotiations increased after the strike suggests that union action made a big difference. So is the fact that Kaiser eventually agreed to terms that were closer to the unions’ original demands for wages, benefits and subcontracting after workers went on strike than it had previously said it would accept.
How did workers react to the proposed settlement?
Union members must vote in favor of ratification for this treaty to enter into force. Strike leaders and workers involved in the negotiations told me they were optimistic that would happen. Voting began on October 18 and should end by November 3.
Michael McQuarrie is director of the Center for Work and Democracy, Arizona State University.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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