News

Local Kaiser Permanente workers endorse potential strike

Union, health care firm at odds in stalled bargaining talks

Some local Kaiser Permanente workers could be participating in the largest strike seen in the United States in decades this fall, with Tri-Valley union members among those so far to vote overwhelmingly to authorize a strike should contract negotiations break down.

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) representatives say that in response to negotiations stalling over a new workers' contract, more than 37,000 members cast ballots in support of a strike, while only 867 voted to oppose, in voting between July 29 and Aug. 11 in regions with Kaiser hospitals, including Pleasanton, Livermore and San Ramon.

Strike authorization votes among other groups of Kaiser workers throughout the country are set to run through mid-September.

"Kaiser workers all over California are putting a stake in the ground that it's time for this corporation to get back on track and live up to its mission to help patients, workers and communities thrive," Heather Wright, a women's health clerk at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, said in a union statement.

SEIU-UHW represents medical assistants and others at health care centers such as licensed vocational nurses, radiology technologists and lab techs to housekeeping, dietary aides and maintenance employees.

Their contract with Kaiser expired on Sept. 30, 2018, according to union officials.

John Nelson, Kaiser's vice president of communications, said Kaiser has proposed a contract that includes "annual pay increases that would keep our employees compensated higher than market averages." He called the union's requests unfair to Kaiser members and the communities they serve.

"Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-UHW have been working together toward a mutually beneficial agreement as part of the national bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions that began in April," he said in an email statement. "Unfortunately, UHW leadership has decided to use the threat of a strike as a bargaining tactic, designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente's position, even though most of the contracts don't expire until October."

Nelson said key aspects of Kaiser's proposal include 3% wage increases each year through 2022, a $40 million workforce development fund and the creation of new-hire training programs, and the preservation of the existing "defined pension plan."

Wright countered that "this strike vote is about stopping Kaiser's unfair labor practices. This company should be all about providing the best possible patient care, but unfortunately it's focus in recent years has been on making billions of dollars in profits and millions of dollars for Kaiser executives."

The strike would start in early October, and pending approval from groups in other states, would be the largest strike the nation has seen since the Teamsters' walkout at UPS in 1997, according to SEIU-UHW media relations specialist Sean Wherley.

Wherley added that in Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon alone, more than 650 Kaiser Permanente workers would be affected by the strike.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by James Michael
a resident of Val Vista
on Aug 14, 2019 at 10:22 pm

James Michael is a registered user.

Every time there is a contract negotiation you read the phrase "unfair labor practices". But what exactly are these "unfair labor practices"? And if theses practices are so unfair then why wasn't something said about them before contract crunch time. Just a rhetorical tool.


3 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 14, 2019 at 10:42 pm

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

Fire them


6 people like this
Posted by Amy M.
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 15, 2019 at 9:54 am

Let me shed some light on this subject for those of you who perhaps don’t know or understand how Kaiser works. The doctors are in a separate group called “The Permanente Medical Group” and Kaiser Permanente essentially hires them to work at their various Medical Centers and Hospitals. All the other employees, excluding non-exempt are in unions and are under the employment of KP. KP has billions in savings. They also will be spending close to $1 billion on their new consolidated headquarters in downtown Oakland. However, every single time they enter into contract negotiations, the same, sad, old excuse comes out, “We don’t have enough money to give everyone the salary/cost of living increases they deserve.” Kaiser is notorious for not paying their employees the going salaries but being generous with the current and long term benefits. That’s great, but if you can’t pay the bills because the Bay Area is so expensive, then being rich with benefits won’t help.
Kaiser has significant problems with their Mental Health Branch. If you need to see a therapist, good luck. Most people cannot see anyone for 6-8 weeks. Then they are so understaffed that you can only see a therapist once every 4-8 weeks depending on the situation. Kaiser depends on all the other health care providers in the area for in and out patient mental health treatment that goes beyond seeing a therapist. It is well known among upper management - the VPs and C-suite - that this is their Achilles heel. Suggesting that everyone be fired has to be the most nonsensical solution I’ve heard in a long time. In my experience, 95% of the employees, doctors, nurses, etc. at KP are great, hardworking, caring people. However, since when do they have to work under slavish conditions?


Like this comment
Posted by James Michael
a resident of Val Vista
on Aug 15, 2019 at 10:33 am

James Michael is a registered user.

I don't think anybody is working in slave conditions...a little hyperbolic, don't you think. But, again, what are the "unfair labor practices"? Not accepting the union's wage demands is not unfair, it's a negotiating tactic and the union responds with the strike vote and maybe even a strike. That's how it has always worked...sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you have to settle. But that isn't "unfair labor practices". And I do know how Kaiser works...my nephew is a doctor and my niece is a surgical nurse.


1 person likes this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 15, 2019 at 8:06 pm

I’m sure the Union was willing to concede those great benefits you referenced in trade for salary right......oh, they want both?

Medical professionals are in high demand also, if other hospitals are offering more, take it! Ohhhh.....you don’t want to lose shift seniority at a hospital with a different union?

Hmmmm....what’s the common element here?


4 people like this
Posted by Amy M.
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 16, 2019 at 11:38 am

So you think it’s okay for a doctor to be assigned 2,000 patients? But not really be able to treat each one as you’d like bc your time is capped. One of their service centers is nicknamed “The Gulag” but sure, I’m using hyperbole in calling the conditions “slavish.”
The NUHW Union is requesting more mental health employees (therapists, psychiatrists, etc.) so that Kaiser members can see their counselors and/or doctors in what is an acceptable time frame. Most people go to therapy once or twice a week; not every other month. Last I checked, unions are what gave us the 5-day workweek, an 8 hour day, no more child labor and so many more protections. Kaiser management will always look after Kaiser management first and foremost.
My comment about salaries applies to everyone outside of TPMG and below the 27th floor in the Ordway Building in downtown Oakland.


1 person likes this
Posted by James Michael
a resident of Val Vista
on Aug 16, 2019 at 7:36 pm

James Michael is a registered user.

Still hyperbole...my nephew and my doctor don't have 2,000 patients and I've never had to wait for an appointment for more than 1 day. Amy obviously works for Kaiser and is not happy and so it's time to attack the boss. I get it...you might even be a union rep. and that's okay. But my initial question still stands..."what are the unfair labor practices"? Racial discrimination, sex discrimination, age discrimination, nepotism? Please educate me because what you are talking about is not unfair labor practices as your union claims...that is how Kaiser runs its business. And if you and the union don't like the corporate business plan of the company, then all I can say is move on. And if Kaiser's customers don't like the corporate business plan then they will move on.
I've been on both sides, union and management in my jobs (not with Kaiser) and the only time labor "attacks" the boss is at contract time.


Like this comment
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 17, 2019 at 8:06 am

The union's interests are not centered around patient health. They are centered around, first and foremost, the union's ongoing survival (it's a for profit business); second, extracting as much financial benefit for its members from its host.

The items that necessitated unions origin are now legislated in. Safety, regulation, employment laws, etc.

So the only things a union could arguably add value to today would be training (which most push on the individual or company)...I do think some of the welding/electrical/plumbing do better here, and negotiating for its members.

Point being, unions arguing on behalf of safety are really just trying to mask a money grab


2 people like this
Posted by KP Knowledge
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2019 at 9:56 pm

@James Michael - The risk adjusted panel size for a Kaiser primary care doctor in the Tri-Valley is 2160 patients. An individual doctor may have less if they work part-time or spend time doing administrative work, but they could also have many more if their patients are on average younger and healthier. I have seen doctors with panel sizes of 2500-2600. Good for you for not stressing over a one day wait for an appointment. Many patients demand same day access even for minor issues which could wait.

@Amy - I have never, ever heard of any KP site referred to as “The Gulag”, I’m certain this is a lie. The union employees I work with are gone the minute their shift ends, don’t take any work home with them, don’t think about work on weekends, vacations, etc... Paid competitively with excellent benefits including pension, it is a highly desirable and competitive place to work in Northern California health care ( with the exception of mental health to be fair ). Those I work with have it good and they know it and don’t want to strike. SEIU spent considerable money ( union dues ) to place ballot initiatives aimed at KP and Stanford in local elections in Livermore and Palo Alto last year and were trounced at the ballot box. If I paid those dues I would have big problems with the leadership strategy.


Like this comment
Posted by Amy M.
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 18, 2019 at 3:00 am

First off, I’m flattered that you think I work for Kaiser in any capacity but especially as a Union Rep. Perhaps it’s my years of working with Taft-Hartley plans and doing everything from pension calculations based on QDRO requirements to writing plan documents in accordance with ERISA. I'm also the daughter of a journeyman pipefitter and I have friends in the IBEW, Carpenters, WGA and DGA unions.
@KP Knowledge - did you read my initial post where I stated 95% of the KP employees (I'm lumping everyone together) are great people. Do you know all of the sites? Have you ever worked in any of the service centers? When you reference ”the union employees I work with”, may I assume that you are a health care provider and not a corporate employee in downtown Oakland or in Alameda? You can choose to believe whatever you like but it's probably best that regular employees didn't know all the goings on at corporate. They know they've been short changing Mental Health Services for years. It's widely discussed (or it used to be) that KP could do a lot of things well in health care (preventative care, pediatrics, to name a couple) but Mental Health - including drug addiction - is absolutely the weakest chain in the link.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Differentiating Grief from Clinical Depression
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,522 views

Jammed BART trains demand innovative thinking moving forward
By pleasantonweekly.com | 9 comments | 1,040 views