Unions for Workers at Pasadena-Based Kaiser Permanente Set Strike Authorization Vote

Published : Tuesday, July 30, 2019 | 4:36 AM

Kaiser Permanente's regional headquarters is located in Pasadena and the healthcare provider operates a medical clinic in East Pasadena.

[UPDATED Tuesday, July 30, 2019 | 10:40 a.m.]  A coalition of unions under the leadership umbrella of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers (SEIU-UHW), representing employees of Kaiser Permanente, will record a strike vote of the membership during July and August.

The union leadership has recommended the rank-and-file vote to approve a work stoppage, according to SEIU-UHW spokesman Sean Wherley.

Kaiser Permanente regional headquarters is in Pasadena. The healthcare provider operates a medical clinic in East Pasadena.

Contracts covering more than 80,000 workers don’t expire until October, but negotiations are not proving fruitful. The most recent bargaining session transpired July 12, and no more are scheduled.

The talks cover employees at Kaiser facilities in California, Colorado, Hawaii, District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, and Oregon.

There are some 57,000 SEIU members who will vote between July 29 and Aug. 12, the results of which will be announced Aug. 13. Other unions in the Coalition will vote between now and Sept. 4, with the results being announced Sept. 5, according to Wherley.

Kaiser Permanente regional headquarters is in Pasadena. The healthcare provider operates a medical clinic in East Pasadena.

The Coalition has set an early October time-frame for the strike to occur. The strike would be of seven days duration, he stated.

“Kaiser is expected to staff the facilities with temporary workers and, given the movement toward the strike vote, we assume they are making those preparations now, so they should be able to continue with patient care delivery if the strike is to occur,” he explained.

Kaiser Permanente issued a statement calling the planned vote “divisive” and “simply a bullying tactic designed to pressure us during the contract negotiating process.”

The Coalition of Healthcare Unions is negotiating separately from a second group called the Alliance of Healthcare Unions, which reached an agreement with Kaiser last fall.

The company accused the SEIU-UHW of “waging a power play” in the coalition’s unions that led to the breakup of a single labor negotiating bloc at Kaiser.

“Today, led by SEIU-UHW leadership, the Coalition is demanding a contract that is superior to the one reached with the Alliance and all our other contracts,” said Kaiser’s Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president, human resources. “The Coalition’s proposal would increase our wages on average 32 percent above the market over the next five years, adding $1 billion to our labor costs.”

Additional information provided by Kaiser asserted that its housekeeping staff earn $44,000 annually and that the compensation is 34 percent above local market rates. The coalition’s demand for this category would increase that pay to $55,000 a year.

Similarly, the company said the pharmacy technician work classification earns $51,000 annually, some 23 percent above market value. Union demands, Kaiser said, would increase the annual pay to $65,000, about 35 percent above local market rates.

The unions do not like how Kaiser is doing business, explained Wherley.

“The company has moved away from its mission of serving the community and helping patients thrive to one that is all about boosting profits and enriching top executives,” said Wherley. “The corporation is a nonprofit. It pays no income tax and very little property tax and yet it has moved away from that commitment to the community.”

Kaiser, he asserted, is sitting on $35 billion in reserves, having reported $3 billion in profits for the first quarter of this year. The chief executive officer received a pay boost from $10 million to $16 million, according to Wherley.

“At the same time they’re raising rates on their patients and underserving low-income patients, those who are on Medi-Cal,” he stated, “and the workers here are trying to reorient Kaiser to get back on track.”

This contract squabble has nothing to do with another Kaiser labor relations wrangle involving mental health workers covered in these pages. Those workers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, rejected a contract proposal from the HMO on July 11.

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