Kaiser Permanente, Workers Reach Contract Deal, Will Likely Avoid Strike

(Photo: CPR/John Daley)
<p>Kaiser Permanente, Colorado&#039;s largest non-profit health plan, recently opened a new speciality center in Lone Tree, south of Denver.</p>

Kaiser Permanente workers agreed to a new contract with their employer Wednesday after an all-night bargaining session. If workers ratify the agreement in the coming weeks, they will avoid a strike.

Unions representing about 80,000 workers nationwide — 3,100 in Colorado — at the health giant announced strikes earlier this month. The union said it was trying to force the company to take workers' complaints more seriously.

A coalition of unions representing Kaiser workers had been bargaining for months.

Workers in the union argued layoffs and insufficient salary raises were making it untenable to work at Kaiser.

The new contract with Kaiser ensures a 3 percent raise this year and 2 percent raises for the remaining three years of the contract, according to President of SEIU Local 105 Ron Ruggiero.

"I am proud of our members for standing together and standing strong throughout this process," Ruggiero said. "You always want to achieve more but I think this is a very solid and good agreement that accomplished really all of our major goals and puts us in a position to rebuild the partnership with Kaiser."

The new contract applies to most jobs in Kaiser facilities except for doctors and registered nurses. It includes radiology techs, pharmacy techs, call center workers, medical assistants and licensed practical nurses.

Kaiser officials said the agreement also creates a program to reduce the national shortage of health care workers.

Another sticking point for the union was the two-tiered benefits system being offered by Kaiser in early contract offers. New employees would not have had access to the same benefits as current employees. But the latest iteration of the contract eliminated this system, Ruggiero said. The contract also includes protections against outsourcing for call center and customer service jobs.

“This agreement is a testament to the dedication, compassion and skill those employees bring to work every day and demonstrates that Kaiser Permanente and the coalition have a shared commitment to affordability for our members," said Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser's interim chief human resources officer, in a news release. “Kaiser Permanente has an unparalleled track record of working constructively with labor to solve problems together to improve the care and service offered to our members and patients. We may disagree at times, but we have always been able to work through our challenges to align on common goals.”

Kaiser workers must still decide whether to ratify the contract. That vote will happen over the next few weeks, Ruggiero said.

Editor's note: Colorado Public Radio is a customer of Kaiser Permanente.