Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: Kaiser Permanente, union announce labor contract

NUHW In the NewsMay 15, 2012

Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
05/14/2012 11:17:14 AM PDT

Kaiser Permanente and a coalition of unions have reached a tentative three-year labor agreement including a companywide Total Health program to reduce the health care provider’s own medical costs.

The announced deal would affect nearly 10,000 Kaiser employees in the Inland Empire.

“It’s a great settlement, and our people are really excited about it,” said Steve Trossman, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare West.

The deal calls for a 3 percent pay increase for Kaiser’s California employees and maintains those workers’ health care coverage and pensions, according to announcements from Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-UHW.

The agreement, reached at 3 a.m. Friday, also contains a framework for an employee Total Health program in which Kaiser Permanente would likely provide incentives for employees to lose weight, quit smoking or otherwise improve their physical conditions.

SEIU-UHW President David Regan said in a statement that reducing and preventing employees’ chronic health care problems is necessary to curb otherwise unsustainable health care costs.

“Over time, and as a group, that should also reduce the cost of providing medical costs to ourselves as members,” Kaiser Permanente spokesman John Nelson said.

The health program would not penalize employees for not meeting personal health goals, Nelson said.

The deal has yet to be ratified by the members of 28 union locals represented through the Coalition of Kaiser Unions.

Ratification votes are expected to take place over the summer.

In California and in other states where Kaiser Permanente operates, the agreement would cover more than 90,000 of the health care provider’s 165,000 employees.

The labor agreement does not affect National Union of Healthcare Workers members who conducted a one-day strike in January outside Kaiser Permanente’s hospital in Fontana and at other California hospitals.

“Our biggest issues have been pensions and retiree benefits,” NUHW vice president John Borsos said.

At Fontana, the NUHW union’s members include psychiatric and social workers.

The NUHW split from SEIU in 2009. The NUHW’s reaction to news of the deal involving SEIU and Kaiser was to question whether the agreement would undermine its own bargaining efforts.

“They claim a big victory, and then we look at the reality of what the agreements are, and it’s a lot less than that,” said Borsos, predicting that a detailed examination of the deal will not appear as beneficial to employees as what was contained in its announcement.

Trossman replied that the deal will stand up to scrutiny.

“There are no rocks to be thrown. We maintained all the benefits,” he said.

Kaiser Permanente, headquartered in Oakland, reported total net income of $770 million for the quarter ending March 31. That amount compares with $921million during the same period last year.

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin