SEIU’s concessions at Kaiser
May 12th, 2012
Two years ago, NUHW members at Kaiser Permanente made a decision: at a time when Kaiser is making billions in profits, there’s no reason for workers to agree to the benefit cuts that Kaiser put on the bargaining table.
So along with our allies in the California Nurses Association and the Stationary Engineers, we fought back. Our campaign to win a fair contract for Kaiser caregivers has included four separate strikes, including the two biggest walkouts in Kaiser’s history. Through these actions, we have stopped Kaiser from imposing any cuts on NUHW members.
We don’t know what Kaiser and SEIU agreed to at 3am Friday morning. SEIU, as usual, is refusing to share the language of the agreement with members. Withholding contract language and misleading members about what was agreed to has become standard practice for SEIU officials. In the past, SEIU claimed to have settled a contract with no takeaways at Catholic Healthcare West. Later on, workers learned that their pension benefits had been given away.
What we have heard about the tentative agreement, however, points to substantial shortcomings. We understand that the tentative agreement includes cuts to retiree health benefits. When the former leadership of UHW prior to the trusteeship achieved retiree health coverage at Kaiser, it was a groundbreaking achievement. SEIU allowing Kaiser to weaken that standard is a significant setback. We also know that SEIU is forcing workers into a ‘wellness program’ that requires employees to divulge private, personal information for Kaiser’s benefit. We know that SEIU has allowed the wage gap between Northern and Southern California Kaiser workers to widen still further. And we know that once again, there will be no local bargaining following ratification, so locally focused concerns will go entirely unaddressed.
Just today, Kaiser announced that in the first quarter of this year, the company generated another $770 million in profits. Why, at a time when Kaiser has made nearly $7 billion in profits in the last three years, is SEIU agreeing to any concessions at all?
We await further information about SEIU’s settlement with Kaiser, especially as it pertains to healthcare coverage and retirement benefits. Over the last few weeks, thousands of SEIU members at Kaiser have signed our petition to “Just Say No” to a contract with benefit cuts, in order to prevent Kaiser and SEIU from making the back room deal we know they’ve been negotiating for months behind closed doors. We hope that the commitment and determination of the many workers who signed that petition had its intended effect, and that SEIU’s agreement with Kaiser really does preserve existing healthcare and retirement benefits for tens of thousands of Kaiser workers. If so, our fight will have been a victory for everyone.
Sal Rosselli, President