Kaiser Permanente is entangled in a legal battle against some of its employees that could reach trial in March.
Even though Kaiser settled contract negotiations with some labor unions in November, disagreement continues between Kaiser and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which consists of 11 labor unions in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
About 20 unions that used to be part of the coalition split from it last spring, and finalized their contract with Kaiser.
The coalition filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in May, saying that Kaiser repeatedly canceled contract negotiations with the coalition. The coalition’s national agreement expired with Kaiser on Sept. 30 — Kaiser has negotiated contracts with the coalition since 1997. A legal hearing with the NLRB has been scheduled to begin on March 19 in Oakland, Calif.
While contract negotiations have stalled, there has been no work stoppage.
Meg Niemi, the president of SEIU United Healthcare Workers West Local 49, said she’s hopeful Kaiser will return to the negotiating table before the trial; she said she believes Kaiser has broken the law, and that the NLRB will agree with her.
SEIU Local 49 represents 500 Kaiser health care workers in Southwest Washington, which includes licensed practical nurses, registration representatives, medical assistants, physical therapy aides, dental aides among other job classifications.
Kaiser, in a press release last month, said it has “been doing everything possible to be constructive and make progress,” referencing the other unions it has settled with.
“As we have said in the past, our preference is to be in partnership with the unions who represent our employees, but for unions who prefer a traditional union-employer relationship to a partnership, we will continue to work fairly and constructively,” the press release states. “We will continue to bargain with each union in good faith, and we look forward to resolving the issues raised in the NLRB matter.”
In response to a coalition press release that claimed the federal government had “indicted” Kaiser, John Nelson, vice president of communications with Kaiser Permanente, gave the following statement through email: “The announcement is misleading and inaccurate. There has been no indictment and no decision. The NLRB is following its routine process to set an evidentiary hearing, as already announced in December.”
Jacy LaPlante has worked at Kaiser’s Cascade Park clinic since 2001, and has clocked close to two decades with the company. He lives in Vancouver and serves on the bargaining committee as part of SEIU Local 49.
LaPlante said, “It’s always a pleasure to fight the good fight,” but mentioned that these negotiations, or lack thereof, have been very trying.
“I’m always hopeful that Kaiser will come back to the table,” he said.
LaPlante said that in his almost 18 years with Kaiser, he feels like the company’s priorities have shifted.
“It used to feel like it was a mission to take care of patients, and now it feels like it’s a mission to take care of profits,” LaPlante said.