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Kaiser Union Workers Plan October Strike

After another unsuccessful bargaining session this month between Kaiser Permanente and the union members that comprise the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU), more than 80,000 workers are planning a seven-day nationwide strike starting October 14, a spokesman said.

Kaiser Permanente and the CKPU have been negotiating since April, according to Elita Adjei, director of media relations at Kaiser Permanente Southern California. The contract talks pertain to staffing, the distribution of Kaiser’s funds, wages and health care offerings.

On September 16, Kaiser executives and CKPU union members, led by the Services Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), met in Downtown Los Angeles to discuss Kaiser’s latest bargaining proposal, according to Sean Wherley, SEIU-UHW spokesman. Adjei said the bargaining session featured discussion about the company’s recent bargaining proposal that was presented to the coalition in late July and later publicly in an August press release. However, Kaiser and the CKPU have not had a formal bargaining session since July 11, a few weeks before the new proposal was presented.

The current proposal would provide annual pay increases, maintain employee benefits and create a program that would seek to reduce a national shortage of health care workers, according to Adjei. The proposal includes: annual wage increases of 3% each year through 2022 for employees in Northern and Southern California; $40 million for a workforce development fund to help train new hires; preserving an existing employee pension plan; and improving on an existing tuition reimbursement program for employees that would add $250 to their travel funds.

However, Wherley said the proposal does not address the union members’ main concerns, which are claims that Kaiser has not been transparent about the use of its profits, in particular when it comes to the distribution of adequate health care benefits and wages for employees. “It was an unproductive meeting,” he said of this month’s bargaining session. “Kaiser does not seem willing to work with the workers on addressing those concerns on ensuring safe staffing, building the workforce of the future, protecting good middle-class jobs and then restoring the labor-management partnership.”

In a statement, Bernard Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, criticized the CKPU and SEIU-UHW for being unreasonable in its requests during the bargaining session. “We are not in this situation because we do not have an attractive offer on the table; rather, it is because of the aggressive approach by the coalition and SEIU-UHW leadership demanding that they receive more than everyone else,” Tyson said. “We will continue to engage with the coalition, led by SEIU-UHW’s leadership, at the bargaining table, and I hope we will not have a strike on October 14.”

Wherley said the seven-day strike will include picket lines that will be set up at nationwide Kaiser Permanente hospitals, medical office buildings and other facilities in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The strike will include Kaiser workers that are optometrists, clinical laboratory scientists and surgical technicians, among other positions.

SEIU-UHW’s contract with Kaiser Permanente is set to expire at the end of September. As of press time, another bargaining session was scheduled for September 24, according to Wherley. Adjei said Kaiser executives will likely address the pending strike with union members during the planned meeting.

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