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News / Business

Kaiser Permanente strike narrowly averted

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 15, 2021, 5:54pm

Kaiser Permanente management and union officials reached a tentative agreement at the bargaining table over the weekend, narrowly averting a strike that was slated to begin Monday.

Some 3,200 Kaiser employees in Southwest Washington and Oregon were prepared to strike, joining 52,000 Kaiser employees overall.

Kaiser and The Alliance of Health Care Unions jointly announced the tentative agreement on Saturday.

The Alliance is comprised of 21 unions, including the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which represents some 400 Southwest Washington Kaiser employees.

“This was a very hard-won victory, and we could not have done it without dedicated, sustained action by tens of thousands of members,” said Alliance chief negotiator Hal Ruddick in a press release.

The agreement brings relief to both employees and patients. The potentially record-breaking health care strike was expected to hamstring Kaiser facilities amid unprecedented staffing shortages at hospitals nationwide.

Kaiser told customers last week to expect delays and rescheduling of appointments in the event of a strike, including in Southwest Washington, where facilities such as Salmon Creek, Orchards and Cascade Park medical offices and the Longview-Kelso Medical Office were bracing for impact.

Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals officials are pleased with the agreement. The four-year contract meets many of the Alliance’s demands, including annual wage increases, staffing improvements, updated health benefits, new language meant to protect employees and more.

Additionally, Kaiser abandoned its proposed two-tier wage system that would have lowered salaries for incoming employees.

“This agreement is a huge success,” said Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals spokesperson Shane Burley. “It pushes back on the two-tier system which would have been a disaster for staffing situations; it provides a 2 percent wage increase, which is astronomically higher than what was initially proposed; it provides racial justice language to rectify disparate salaries, and so much more. It’s a big step forward.”

Kaiser administrators are also happy with the agreement.

“These were challenging negotiations, but this tentative agreement demonstrates the strength of our labor management partnership and the unique success it can achieve when we work together,” said Christian Meisner, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente in a statement.

Washington Kaiser employees outside of Southwest Washington secured their first union contract with Kaiser through UFCW Local 21 during negotiations and will see retiree medical benefits increase from $300 per years of service to $1,000 per years of service.

With a tentative agreement in place both locally and nationally, union members will now need to vote on the final contract in accordance with local union procedures.

If approved, the agreement will have an effective date of Oct. 1, 2021.

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