KAISER PERMANENTE: Secures Contract With AFL-CIO
Kaiser Permanente will announce today an "unprecedented" five-year contract with a coalition of unions representing 62,000 workers. The new contract will raise salaries, guarantee job security and increase workers' roles in staffing decisions, the Los Angeles Times reports. Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, California's largest HMO, entered a partnership three years ago with the AFL-CIO "under which the labor federation agreed to help market the health plan and Kaiser Permanente ensured that new facilities would be unionized." The contract to be announced today is an "outgrowth" of that partnership, and will award all covered workers with at least 4% annual raises, and 6% annual raises for registered nurses. Union members will also be eligible for bonuses, which are contingent on "certain goals -- including improved patient satisfaction and reduced medical errors," in addition to meeting "financial targets." Officials of the rival California Nurses Association take issue with the financial target incentive. Roseanne De Moro, CNA director, said, "It goes to the heart of why CNA did not join and will never join the partnership. They can't be on the side of the market and the public at the same time. It's an inherent conflict of interest." But David Bullock, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 399 in Los Angeles, said the contract contains "safeguards against such a conflict." The contract also enables workers to establish committees with "equal numbers of union members and managers that will determine staffing levels and other matters that affect patient care." Kaiser Chair David Lawrence said, "Medical care today is so complex, it requires teams of people. If those people aren't able to work together in constructive, collaborative ways, the quality of care suffers. What makes this contract so exciting is that now we're all in the same boat rowing together" (Cleeland/Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 9/26).
Going Against the Grain
The Kaiser/AFL-CIO contract goes against the trend of recent union and provider relations, as several other dominant hospital chains have recently "locked horns with organized labor." The Sacramento Bee cites the recent Local 250 strike against Bay Area hospitals run by Sacramento-based Sutter Health and San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West. CHW spokesperson Robert Polzoni said CHW will "'never' give Local 250 the broad authority over staffing" that union members want, adding, "Staffing decisions belong in the hands of doctors and nurse leaders." Sutter Health spokesperson Bill Gleeson said it is "unfair for the union to hold Kaiser up as an ideal," because "we are very different from Kaiser. Kaiser is an HMO [as well as a hospital chain], and that means Kaiser can raise its rates to offset the concessions they make to organized labor." In contrast, other providers like Sutter and CHW "are dependent on reimbursement payers and health plans, which the hospitals have little control over" (Fisher, Sacramento Bee, 9/26).