In the News: Kaiser must restore raises, training for health care workers

January 18th, 2011

From American Medical News:

A judge and the NLRB order the California-based plan to bargain in good faith with the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

By VICTORIA STAGG ELLIOTT, amednews staff. Posted Jan. 18, 2011.

Kaiser Permanente affiliates must restore annual raises, tuition reimbursement and a steward training program for employees who elected to switch unions in early 2010, according to a statement issued Dec. 17, 2010, by the National Labor Relations Board. It reported two judicial rulings on this issue.

“We have reviewed the federal district court ruling in this complicated case, and we will fully comply with the direction that we have been given,” said John Nelson, vice president for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. “We are working to put the court’s directives into place and provide the benefits and wages to our affected employees as quickly and fairly as possible.”

Raises and other benefits were withheld while a new contract was negotiated with 2,300 nurses and other clinical staff employed by the Southern California Permanente Medical Group and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. The staffers had voted in February 2010 to switch from the Service Employees International Union to the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Physicians are not members of these collective bargaining units.

“Kaiser denied workers the basic right to change unions and denied people the wage increases that were lawfully theirs,” said John Borsos, NUHW’s vice president. “This puts Kaiser on notice that they need to abide by the law.”

U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess ruled Dec. 16, 2010, that the terms of the original contract should have remained in place until a new one could be negotiated. That process is ongoing.

The health care system needs to pay workers any money that would have been earned if a 2% annual raise had been implemented as scheduled and bargain in good faith with the union.

NLRB Administrative Law Judge William L. Schmidt ruled Dec. 13, 2010, that Kaiser’s actions were “inherently destructive” of employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

“This situation was so clear cut and egregious,” said James Small, director for NLRB’s region 21 office, which is based in Los Angeles. “An employer must maintain working conditions during negotiations.”

The majority of Kaiser workers who belong to a union remain with SEIU or other participants in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

Read the story at American Medical News.