A striking Kaiser Permanente worker uses a megaphone on a picket line in front of Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center on October 6, 2023 in Vallejo, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions reached a preliminary agreement with its employer on Oct. 13, 2023, on a new four-year contract. They reached the agreement after the largest health care worker strike on record in the United States, involving more than 75,000 workers in multiple regions. states and the District of Columbia. The agreement needs to be approved by a majority of the union’s 85,000 members to become final. Voting begins on October 18.
Greg Holmes, Kaiser vice president and director of human resources, said the terms of the contract will allow Kaiser “to fulfill our mission of providing high-quality, affordable and accessible health care to our members.”
The Conversation spoke with Michael McQuarrie, a sociologist at the Center for Work and Democracy at Arizona State University, who explained what the settlement agreement is about and why it matters.
What are the terms of the settlement?
Kaiser employees will receive a 21% salary increase during the contract period, including a 6% salary increase in October 2023 and a 5% salary increase in October 2024, 2025 and 2026.
Notably, the contract also includes a new hourly minimum wage for Kaiser workers in California, which will increase to $25 by 2026. By then, though, all California health care employers will be required to meet that wage level because California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a new law to that effect.
In other states, contract minimums will reach $23 an hour once all raises called for in the new contract are phased in.
The contract also calls for some improvements to benefits, such as increased performance-related bonuses. The final settlement reportedly included a guaranteed performance bonus of at least $1,500 if Kaiser met financial benchmarks and patient health benchmarks.
I understand from workers involved in the negotiations that the bonus will rise to $3.25 an hour for shifts that include those after 5:30 p.m. This means that if the contract is approved, wages for these evening and night shifts will increase by $2 from the 2019-2023 contract. Without this monetary incentive, workers often try to get more desirable day shifts, increasing turnover and exacerbating nighttime staffing shortfalls.
The new contract will also limit Kaiser’s ability to outsource or subcontract union work, restrictions that were included in Kaiser’s previous contract with the union in 2019.
A federation of labor unions has agreed to streamline the internal bidding process for open positions to help Caesars address staffing shortages. Additionally, the contract includes provisions sought by the union for training new health care workers.
Why do workers feel a strike is necessary? Did the strikes achieve their goals?
My contacts within the union told me they were under the impression that Caesars had largely walked away from negotiations in the weeks leading up to the strike—although its management team did return to the bargaining table at the last minute before the strike began. Negotiations will officially begin in April 2023.
Unions in the coalition rejected Kaiser’s conditions at the time, which included plans to lower wages and expand reliance on subcontracted workers. Kaiser also never responded to the League’s latest economic proposals until last-minute negotiations failed to avert a strike.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the relationship between Kaiser’s managers and employees to an unprecedented degree. The union’s largest union, United Healthcare Workers West/SEIU, surveyed its members in 2022 and found stressed workers who felt management was unresponsive to their concerns. Many academic studies support these findings.
For months, Kaiser has been seeking to hire 10,000 new employees by the end of 2023 to fill job openings that have left the company short-staffed and stressful for employees.
Negotiations between Caesars and the union increased after the strike, suggesting the union’s actions had a big impact. In fact, once workers went on strike, Caesars ultimately agreed to terms that were closer to the union’s original demands for wages, benefits, and subcontracting than what it had previously expressed a willingness to accept.
How did workers react to the proposed settlement?
Union members must vote in favor of ratifying the contract for it to take effect. Strike leaders and workers involved in negotiations told me they were optimistic that would happen. Voting opened on October 18 and is expected to end on November 3.
Michael McQuarrie is director of the Center for Work and Democracy at Arizona State University.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.