Strike averted for Kaiser’s Colorado workers, but staffing lawsuit still pending

Kaiser Permanente offices in Denver.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Kaiser Permanente offices in Denver.

Updated December 10, 2021 @ 6:00 a.m.

Kaiser Permanente nurses and other health care workers in Colorado approved a new four-year contract with the provider on Wednesday, avoiding a strike as the state’s health care system struggles under high patient loads.

The deal includes across-the-board raises, new medical benefits and improvements in patient safety provisions, according to UFCW Local 7, which represents about 2,000 Kaiser staffers in the state. It also struck down a proposed two-tier wage system the union said would have meant lower pay for new hires.

“There are some gains in this,” said Becky Sassaman, a Kaiser nurse and union representative. “But we definitely have some pause about other things we need to address around staffing levels.” 

The non-profit health care provider started negotiations with local bargaining chapters across the country earlier this year. Talks were tense, and nurses in Colorado, Oregon, California and other states threatened to walk off the job last month.

But the two sides reached a tentative agreement on Nov. 13 to avoid a strike. This week’s vote solidifies the new contract and puts negotiations to bed. 

In a statement, Kaiser said the contract reflects its “deep appreciation” for employees throughout the pandemic and “also ensures that we remain affordable for our members in the future.” 

“We look forward to working together with our labor partners to implement the contract and further our mission,” said Christian Meisner, Kaiser’s senior vice president and chief human resources officer. 

Colorado's union is still involved in a lawsuit against the provider, however. Filed during negotiations in October, it seeks to force Kaiser to increase staffing in many departments. 

“These last two years, I have just never seen or experienced what health care workers are going through,” Sassaman said. “They are professionals with integrity and heart, and really trying to do the right thing. And we need the resources and the people to do it.”

Hospitals have warned for months that they are being crushed by  an influx of patients, many of whom are sick with COVID-19. Half of the state’s hospitals say they will face a staffing shortage during the next week. Many are also postponing elective procedures.