On heels of historic strike, on-the-ground engagement from Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su helped bring sides to agreement
Frontline health care workers secure deal for critical workforce investments that bolster patient care
LOS ANGELES – More than 85,000 Kaiser Permanente health care workers reached a historic tentative agreement today for a new contract that will bolster patient safety and make critical investments in the health care workforce at hundreds of Kaiser facilities across California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. OPEIU Locals 2 (MD/DC/VA), 8 (Washington State), 29 (Oakland), 30 (San Diego), and 50 (Hawai’i) represent Kaiser health care workers.
The deal was reached on the heels of Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su traveling back to her home state of California to engage in the most recent talks. Su arrived Thursday evening to successfully help the sides bridge the gap on key lingering issues.
“We’re incredibly grateful to acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su and the Biden administration for supporting workers’ right to collective bargaining. Acting Secretary Su was instrumental in advancing talks and helping to facilitate a successful conclusion to these negotiations,” said Sarah Levesque, secretary-treasurer of OPEIU Local 2.
“What the parties have achieved here in Oakland demonstrates, once again, that collective bargaining works. When workers have a voice and a seat at the table, it can result in historic gains for workers, their employer, and our country," said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie A. Su. “The President and I congratulate the parties on reaching a mutually beneficial deal that delivers important stability for this critical workforce, for Kaiser Permanente, and for the patients in their collective care.”
The landmark deal follows months of tireless advocacy from thousands of frontline healthcare workers.
“This deal is life-changing for frontline healthcare workers like me, and life-saving for our patients,” said Yvonne Esquivel, a pediatric medical assistant at Kaiser Permanente in Gilroy, California. “Thousands of Kaiser healthcare workers fought hard for this new agreement, and now we will finally have the resources we need to do the job we love and keep our patients safe.”
“Good news to hear positive developments in collective bargaining with Kaiser Permanente, especially when it involves addressing staffing shortfalls and concerns and protecting jobs,” said Tamara R. Rubyn, president/business manager of OPEIU Local 29. “Contracts like these not only ensure health care workers are well supported but also help maintain the quality of care for patients. Enhanced benefits will attract new workers, and create a more stable and attractive environment for those considering a career in health care. It's truly a win-win situation!”
Details of the tentative agreement include:
1. Addressing the staffing crisis by raising wages by 21% over four years to better retain current health care workers
2. Establishing a new healthcare worker minimum wage – $25/hr in California and $23/hr in other states where Kaiser Permanente operates
3. Protective terms around subcontracting and outsourcing, which will keep experienced health care workers in jobs and provide strong continuity of care for patients
4. A wide variety of initiatives to invest in the workforce and address the staffing crisis, including streamlining hiring practices, increased training and education funding, mass hiring events, and a commitment to upskill existing workers and invest in the training of future health care workers.
“Millions of Americans are safer today because tens of thousands of dedicated health care workers fought for and won the critical resources they need and that patients need,” said Caroline Lucas, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. “This historic agreement will set a higher standard for the health care industry nationwide.”
In California, the tentative deal has set a new potential bar for negotiations already underway at Prime Healthcare and other area health systems. Nearly 2,000 Prime workers are concluding a five day unfair labor practice strike today as their management threatens and intimidates workers, and refuses to bargain in good faith to fix unsafe working and patient care conditions caused by the short-staffing crisis.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions represents 85,000 Kaiser healthcare workers in seven states and the District of Columbia. In April, the Coalition began its national bargaining process ahead of the September 30 contract expiration. The Coalition and Kaiser Permanente had last negotiated a contract in 2019, before health care workers found themselves on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic that has worsened working conditions and exacerbated a healthcare staffing crisis.
From Wednesday, October 4 to Saturday, October 7, 75,000 Kaiser healthcare workers held an unfair labor practice strike. The actions, led by workers across multiple states and in Washington, D.C., constituted the largest strike of healthcare workers in U.S. history. On October 9, Coalition unions issued a second 10-day notice for a strike that would have commenced on November 1 and included an additional 3,000 health care workers in Seattle.
Frontline health care workers in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions are expected to begin voting to ratify the agreement starting October 18.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions unites more than 85,000 health care workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California, Colorado, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington.
Photo: Local 30 members march at Kaiser’s Zion Medical Center in San Diego.