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Kaiser Permanente avoids health care worker strike of 50,000

(The Center Square) – Kaiser Permanente executives averted strikes involving more than 50,000 health care industry workers set to begin Monday after reaching tentative contract agreements with union representatives over the weekend.

In the days and hours leading up to a strike involving thousands of workers in California and Oregon, Kaiser executives negotiated tentative contract deals with union representatives from the Alliance of Health Care Unions and the Guild for Professional Pharmacists between Saturday and Monday.

On Saturday, a tentative agreement on a four-year contract was reached with Kaiser and the Alliance of Health Care Unions, covering 50,000 Kaiser Permanente workers and 22 local unions. The agreement includes across-the-board wage increases each year through 2025 for Alliance-represented workers, new staffing language for patient and employee protection and maintains both health care and retirement benefits.

"This agreement will mean patients will continue to receive the best care, and Alliance members will have the best jobs," Hal Ruddick, executive director of the Alliance of Health Care Unions, said in a statement. "This contract protects our patients, provides safe staffing, and guarantees fair wages and benefits for every Alliance member."

Earlier this month, unions representing 32,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in Southern California and Oregon announced the intent to strike over ongoing contract negotiations. Kaiser had initially proposed a two-tier wage structure that would have paid new employees less than existing employees while offering a 2% wage increase to current workers.

Union leaders disagreed with this proposal, calling for Kaiser to institute a 4% wage increase across the board and toss out the two-tier wage structure.

In a statement, Kaiser executives said reaching this deal with Alliance "demonstrates the strength of our Labor Management Partnership and the unique success it can achieve when we work together."

"This landmark agreement positions Kaiser Permanente for a successful future focused on providing high-quality health care that is affordable and accessible for our more than 12 million members and the communities we serve," said Christian Meisner, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente. "It also underscores our unwavering commitment to our employees by maintaining industry-leading wages and benefits."

Kaiser also reached a deal Monday with the Guild for Professional Pharmacists to avoid a walk-out involving pharmacy workers in Northern California. In a statement issued Monday, Kaiser said it reached a tentative agreement for a three-year contract with the guild around 1 a.m.

Kaiser executives said the agreement guarantees wage increases over the next three years and maintains health and retirement benefits.

Despite reaching agreements with Alliance and the pharmacists' guild, Kaiser remains in negotiations with the Local 39 Operations Engineers, who have been on strike for two months.

In solidarity with the engineers, about 36,000 Kaiser Permanente workers represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West in Northern California plan to participate in a one-day sympathy strike starting Thursday. The strike is set to begin Thursday at 7 a.m. at various Kaiser facilities in the Bay Area, Sacramento and the Central Valley.

"We voted by a 97% margin in support of a sympathy strike with the engineers of Local 39 to help them achieve a fair contract. We understand how disrespected they feel by Kaiser's unfair labor practices," Georgette Bradford, an ultrasound technologist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Sacramento, said in a statement. "We see it every day when there's not enough staff in our units to care for patients safely. Kaiser is putting its drive for profits over people, to the detriment of our patients and co-workers."

The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which represents Kaiser's mental health professionals, has also announced a one-day strike beginning Friday.

In a statement, Kaiser executives said they are continuing to negotiate with Local 39 Operating Engineers, as well as members of the NUHW, and are confident they will reach an agreement with the unions soon.

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