The Nation: Kaiser Permanente Workers Choose Sides
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Richmond, California —In California, the Kaiser name has long been linked to innovations in work organization, personnel practices and healthcare delivery.
During World War II, industrialist Henry Kaiser built America’s largest shipyard, virtually overnight, here in the East Bay. That now-famous facility turned out scores of “Liberty” ships, using new production techniques, female welders (aka “Rosie the Riveter”) and African-Americans who had been excluded from higher-paying blue-collar jobs.
Kaiser’s wartime experimentation with a pioneering group health plan, tied to hospitals in Richmond and Oakland, paved the way for pre-paid medical coverage of millions of workers and their families. As a broader nonprofit Health Maintenance Organization, Kaiser Permanente (KP) now operates the largest network of unionized hospitals in the country and has long been known as “the HMO that labor built.” To keep the peace on its own far-flung properties, Kaiser formed a much-heralded Labor Management Partnership (LMP) with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other unions in the mid-1990s. Through their embrace of “non-adversarial” labor relations, Kaiser caregivers were supposed to gain more say in workplace decision-making so they could improve service to patients. Their unions won the right to organize non-union KP workers without management interference—a “neutrality” deal only available to LMP participants.
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