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Union workers reach a tentative deal with Kaiser Permanente after the largest-ever US health care strike

By Chris Isidore and Samantha Delouya, CNN

(CNN) — Kaiser Permanente reached a tentative deal with the unions representing 75,000 employees, following the largest-ever health care strike in US history.

“The frontline healthcare workers of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions are excited to have reached a tentative agreement with Kaiser Permanente,” the union coalition said on X. “We are thankful for the instrumental support of Acting US Labor Secretary Julie Su.”

The company also thanked Su its tweet about the deal.

“We are excited to have reached a tentative agreement with the frontline health care workers of the union coalition. We are thankful for the instrumental involvement of Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Su,” it said in its tweet.

The strike last week lasted only three days, the length of time it had been scheduled to run. But the coalition of unions was threatening an eight-day strike next month with even more workers walking out if a new deal was not reached by October 31.

While a full picture of the tentative deal was not immediately available, some details were released Friday. According to the coalition, Kaiser Permanente management agreed to raise wages by 21% over four years in all Kaiser locations and establish a new health care worker minimum wage: $25 per hour in California and $23 per hour in other states where Kaiser operates.

At a news briefing with Su and representatives from Kaiser Permanente and the coalition of unions, Kaiser Permanente said it had agreed to accelerate hiring, furthering its commitment to address a critical staffing shortage that some employees said contributed to feelings of burnout.

During the briefing, Dave Regan, the president of SEIU-UHW, the largest union in the coalition, said that the tentative agreement includes an annual bonus program for unionized workers tied to the success of two metrics: the number of patients who receive preventative vaccinations, like the flu vaccine, and the amount that total blood pressure is reduced among Kaiser Permanente patients.

The union coalition represents 40% of Kaiser Permanente’s non-physician workforce and includes a wide range of medical workers, including EMTs, X-ray technicians, nursing assistants and respiratory care practitioners. It also represents hospital support staff, including maintenance and janitorial staff as well as food services.

Rank-and-file members of the union will get to vote on the tentative labor agreement with their employer. If they vote “no,” another strike could still happen. It is not uncommon in recent years for rank-and-file union members to reject tentative deals reached between union negotiators and management. Nearly 4,000 members of the United Auto Workers union went on strike at Mack Trucks early Monday after membership there overwhelmingly rejected an 11th hour deal reached a week earlier.

Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health providers. Unlike a fee-for-service health care model, in which doctors and other providers are paid for each service performed, Kaiser Permanente patients or their employers pay a membership fee to access Kaiser Permanente’s wide range of health care services. According to its website, Kaiser Permanente has 12.7 million members and operates 39 hospitals and 622 medical offices.

The tentative agreement comes during heightened union activity in the United States. And the health care sector has seen much of the strike activity, with unions and their members complaining about pay and staffing shortages impacting the quality of care.

From the start of 2022 through August of this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked 42 work stoppages of 1,000 or more strikers. Its count shows a third of those strikes were in the health care industry. That’s up from 24% of major strikes in 2019, the year before the pandemic. The increased number of health care strikes have happened despite health care workers making up only about 9% of private sector union members nationwide.

This is the second time this year that Su, who was nominated to be Labor Secretary in February but has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, has helped management and labor reach a deal after contentious negotiations. In June, she brokered a deal between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which operates 29 shipping ports up and down the West Coast. Those talks had dragged on for more than a year.

Su said she was involved in two all-night negotiating sessions between Kaiser Permanente and the coalition of unions.

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