It’s Down to the Wire in Tense Bargaining Talks at Health Care Giant Kaiser

Bargaining between health care giant Kaiser Permanente and a new union alliance representing 38,000 of its employees has come down to the wire.

“Kaiser is playing hardball,” said Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Practitioners President Adrienne Enghouse, a 21-year nurse.

The unions that split from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions this year to form the Alliance of Health Care Unions have emphasized their commitment to continuing a friendly partnership with the employer.

But Kaiser’s proposal to eliminate the defined-benefit pension for new hires, Enghouse said, would be a strike issue for OFNHP members.

“It would be the demise of our union,” she said. “Nope, we’re not falling for that.”

The company made sure the union knew it was preparing for a strike, she said, by advertising around the country for replacement nurses.

This aggressive behavior is coming from an employer that for years touted itself as a model employer dedicated to labor-management partnership.

The final scheduled bargaining session on September 17 turned into a marathon. When talks finally broke late on September 19, various of the local agreements had just been settled.

The national agreement, which includes all the major economics—wages, health care, and pension—was still unresolved. Bargaining was set to resume soon, with the September 30 deadline looming.

Unions Split

Kaiser operates hospitals and clinics in eight regions across the country, but especially concentrated in California. It also has a built-in insurance company.

When this year started, the bargaining was on track to be far bigger. The Coalition represented 107,000 workers from 33 locals, including affiliates of 11 international unions. The national agreement covering them all expires September 30. There are also local agreements, with staggered expiration dates.

But in March the Coalition…

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