Kaiser Permanente, union coalition reach tentative deal after strike

Reuters | October 13, 2023

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By Leroy Leo and Manas Mishra

(Reuters) -A union coalition for Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers reached a tentative labor deal with the hospital system on Friday that included across-the-board wage increases after 75,000 members took part in a three-day strike last week.

The strike was the largest recorded among medical workers and included nurses, medical technicians and support staff at hundreds of Kaiser hospitals and clinics from California to Virginia.

New minimum wages will reach $25 per hour in California for union-represented employees over three years, and $23 per hour in other states where the company operates, a joint statement by the union and the company said.

Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su took part in the negotiations, including during two all-night sessions over a 36-hour period, she said during a media briefing on Friday.

The Biden administration’s term has been marked by labor unrest in several industries, including by striking autoworkers, writers and actors.

“I’m heartened to see healthcare workers and their employers take this critical step towards securing the pay, benefits, and working conditions these heroes deserve,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

The Kaiser union coalition had threatened to strike again for a week starting Nov. 1. On Friday, it said it had withdrawn official notice for that action.

The agreement, which must be ratified by union membership, provides guaranteed across-the-board wage increases totaling 21% over four years. It also enhances payout for employees under a performance-sharing plan and commits to initiatives to address a staffing crisis, including increased training, education and mass hiring events.

The union had said Kaiser would need to hire 10,000 new healthcare workers to fill current vacancies.

More than 5 million U.S. medical workers left their jobs during the pandemic, causing an acute staffing crunch across the sector and leaving employees that stayed behind feeling overworked and underpaid.

Employees of pharmacies and other hospital chains like Tenet Healthcare have recently also said they are considering labor actions.

Spokespersons for the company and the union met on Thursday at a San Francisco Bay-area hotel, more than a week after contract talks broke off at the start of the 72-hour strike. Su had taken part in those talks as well as the ones this week.

The agreement has to be ratified by more than 85,000 Kaiser Permanente employees. The voting process is expected to begin on Wednesday. The agreement will be effective from Oct. 1, a day after the contract expired for 75,000 of the 85,000 workers.

Kaiser is one of the largest U.S. medical employers with 24,000 doctors, 68,000 nurses, and 213,000 technicians, clerical workers and administrative staff. It serves about 13 million people in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Its tentative agreement comes a few days after members of the Writers Guild of America approved a new three-year contract after a protracted strike. Other labor actions are continuing. The United Auto Workers on Wednesday sharply escalated a four-week targeted strike against the Detroit Three automakers by shutting down Ford’s biggest plant globally.

Meanwhile, striking Hollywood actors vowed to hold firm on Thursday in their push for higher compensation and other gains.

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(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Leroy Leo in Bengaluru and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Shinjini Ganguli, Maju Samuel and Jonathan Oatis)