Kaiser Permanente reaches tentative contract covering 85,000 workers

KAILUA-KONA — Kaiser Permanente said Wednesday it reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with unions for 85,000 of the health care giant’s workers, averting a potential strike planned for next month.

The proposed pact, which comes after five months of bargaining, includes annual pay increases for the employees, preserves their defined-benefit pension plan and establishes a program to reduce a shortage of health care workers, Kaiser said.

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The California-based Kaiser did not specify the size of the pay hikes, but they are “strong across-the-board raises of 3% a year,” according to a statement by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West local, which represents workers in Southern California and is among the 11 union locals involved.

About 55,000 of the employees covered by the contract are in California. The remaining workers are in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii.

Some 953 Kaiser registered nurses are members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 50/Hawaii Nurses’ Association, according to Daniel Ross, president of the union. Nineteen work at Kaiser facilities on the Big Island.

Employees will start voting Tuesday on whether to ratify the proposed contract, which would replace a contract that expired last Sept. 30.

The unions had threatened to call a week-long strike against Kaiser starting Oct. 14, but the SEIU said any strike had been averted.

“We may disagree at times, but we have always been able to work through our challenges to align on common goals,” Arlene Peasnall, interim chief human resources officer for Kaiser’s Health Plan and Hospitals unit, said in a statement.

Laura Lott, Kaiser Permanent Hawaii spokeswoman, said the issue was more pressing for the mainland because Hawaii’s HNA contract is in force through the end of November.

The union previously said it would support its brothers and sisters on the mainland after contract talks broke down earlier this summer though the local contract didn’t expire until the fall.

Kaiser is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans. It has 12.3 million members and nearly $80 billion in annual revenue.

Approximately 253,000 of those are located in Hawaii with about 30,000 on Hawaii Island as of the end of August, according to numbers provided Wednesday by Lott.

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Another group of Kaiser employees, its 4,000 mental health workers, are involved in a separate labor dispute with the company and still don’t have a contract. They’re represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

West Hawaii Today reporter Chelsea Jensen contributed to this report.

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