By Antonia Ehlers, PR & Media Relations, Kaiser Permanente Northern California
Kaiser Permanente is the largest union-represented health care employer in the U.S. – with nearly 75 percent of our employees represented by unions. We are currently bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents about 88,000 employees in a variety of roles. The Coalition is part of our historic, 26-year-long Labor Management Partnership, the longest-lasting partnership of its kind in the country.
Kaiser Permanente is fully committed to reaching an agreement with the unions affiliated with the Coalition just as we have done in every national bargaining since 1999. Our priority is to reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial and ensures we can continue to offer our people market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits. We are confident that we will reach an agreement that achieves that goal, before the contract expires on September 30. And we are confident that our new agreement will strengthen our position as a best place to work and ensure the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access.
Strike Authorization Vote
Strike authorizations are a common bargaining pressure tactic that give union leaders the ability to call for a strike in the future. Throughout our negotiations we have seen Coalition leaders attempt to rally their unions’ members to threaten a strike despite important progress made through negotiations.
This tactic does not reflect any breakdown in bargaining, nor does it indicate a strike is imminent or will happen at all. It is a disappointing action considering our progress at the bargaining table. It does not reflect our commitment to reaching an agreement that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits.
We urge our employees to reject any call for a strike and continue to focus on providing care and service to the patients who need them. We take any threat to disrupt care for our members seriously and have plans to ensure continued access to health care by our members, patients, and the communities we serve, should any union call for a strike. Our members, patients, and our communities need us to be there for them.
Allegations of Unfair Labor Practices
From the start, we have bargained in good faith to come to an agreement, working diligently in partnership to address the many complex issues at the table. This week, over the course of our sixth formal negotiation session since national bargaining began in April, we offered proposals on important issues including improvements to the performance sharing bonus plan (PSP) and an enterprise-wide guaranteed minimum wage for our Coalition-represented employees. In addition, committees met on staffing, operational savings, and local bargaining agreements.
As always, one of the key issues in this bargaining involves compensation and Kaiser Permanente has made clear we are standing by our proven commitment to provide market-competitive wages and excellent benefits. In fact, as a leading employer, our philosophy is to pay our employees above the local market, to attract and retain the best employees.
Bargaining is dynamic and involves give-and-take. Accusations from union leaders that Kaiser Permanente has not bargained in good faith are unfounded and counterproductive.
We take bargaining seriously and believe that our employees deserve market competitive wages and excellent benefits. We are hopeful union leaders will set aside the counterproductive tactics of this week, so we can focus on working together to deliver an agreement. We remain committed to bargaining with our Coalition unions in good faith and in the spirit of partnership. We will focus our energy on frank and productive discussions that lead to an agreement, and to doing our part to ensure there are no disruptions to the high-quality care we provide.
We, like all health care organizations, have experienced staffing challenges driven by the pandemic and its lasting effects. For healthcare systems this has been made worse by the backlog in care and the increase in needs and acuity we’re seeing across the country.
While Kaiser Permanente has experienced the same pressures, through diligent work and an unwavering commitment to our people, we have weathered these staffing challenges better than most health care organizations. Kaiser Permanente’s average employee turnover rate of 8.5 percent, as of June 2023, is significantly lower than the rate of 21.4 percent across health care. Talented people who recognize the value of our current wage and benefit offerings want to work at Kaiser Permanente, which is why about 96 percent of candidates for Coalition-represented positions accept our employment offers—significantly above the industry average.
Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition have agreed to work together to accelerate hiring, and we set a joint goal in bargaining of hiring 10,000 new people for Coalition-represented jobs in 2023. Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to date have resulted in more than 6,500 positions filled, and we are aggressively recruiting to fill more.
Our staffing approach reflects our shared commitment to ensure every Kaiser Permanente patient receives extraordinary care, every time and in every place.
Wages and Benefits
We are leaders in employee wages and benefits, and we have reiterated our commitment in bargaining to continuing to provide market-competitive wages and outstanding benefits. In fact, our philosophy is to deliver compensation that provides wages above the local market (up to 10 percent above market) to attract and retain the best employees.
Kaiser Permanente also offers employees opportunities to learn new skills and grow their careers, and we’re committed to providing a safe and equitable work environment. In addition, we want to ensure that we help our employees build long-term economic security with low-cost health insurance, industry-leading retirement plans, and other benefit programs to support their health and well-being.
It’s also worth remembering that during the pandemic, we took extraordinary steps to support and protect our workforce, and to support their mental as well as physical health. We provided $800 million in employee assistance to ensure that front-line employees had access to alternate housing options, special child care grants, and additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure.
The unions’ current negotiating position is that wage increases should not be market-based. This prevents us from addressing wage disparities that exist in in many of Kaiser Permanente’s markets where, for some jobs, wages are significantly higher than our targeted wage level, and in other cases our employees’ wages are below other competitors in the market, impacting our ability to attract and retain the best people.
While being a best-in-class employer is a fundamental part of who we are, we cannot continue a national approach for determining wages and ignore local market conditions. We also have a responsibility to make health care more affordable for our patients, members, and customers, including government agencies. For many families and businesses, health care costs are increasingly unaffordable, and growing. Wages and benefits make up about half the cost of health care, across the country. We must work together with unions on the critical goal of ensuring that health care remains affordable.
We are committed to our philosophy of providing market-competitive pay and excellent benefits, and we’ve made that clear in bargaining. We are committed to addressing areas where staffing is challenging, and we are making great progress. And we are committed to doing all this while striving to help health care be more affordable.