Kaiser Permanente Will Extend Health Coverage for Some San Francisco Hotel Workers Despite Contract Expiration
Oakland-based HMO Kaiser Permanente, which provides health insurance for about 3,500 San Francisco hotel workers involved in a contract negotiation dispute, agreed to continue coverage for two months if the dispute is not settled by Dec. 1, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) announced Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Raine, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/17). Kaiser's contract to provide health benefits to the workers expires Dec. 1 (Leff, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 11/17).
Hotel employees on Sept. 29 began the strike because they said contract negotiations with employers had stalled.
Workers at four hotels in San Francisco on Oct. 13 ended their two-week strike, but the hotels -- and 10 others where employees did not strike -- said they would maintain an employee lockout until they reached a contract settlement.
Last week, four hotel management trustees voted to block the use of $4.4 million from a $22 million joint hotel-union emergency trust fund to finance workers' health benefits from December to January (California Healthline, 11/12). The issue has gone to arbitration. If the arbitration board rules in favor of Unite Here, the union representing the hotel workers, Kaiser's offer would be moot.
Newsom said Unite Here officials also have contacted Chinese Hospital and PacifiCare, which provide health insurance to about 800 additional hotel workers involved in the lockout, to extend coverage for those workers. Union officials have not received a reply, according to the Chronicle.
Kaiser spokesperson Rick Malaspina would not specify the cost of providing the extended health coverage but said that it is "a substantial amount" (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/17). Malaspina said the company expects to be repaid by the union "eventually" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 11/17). "We're doing it for the benefit of our members and their families so they can have access to the kind of care they are accustomed to," Malaspina said. He added that the decision was made "for the good of our patients and their families" and that the financial cost "is not our concern now or our motivation" (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/17).
Unite Here Local 2 President Mike Casey said, "By withholding health care, they thought people would cave in. I think this weakens the weapon of the lockout, which was designed to starve us out" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 11/17).
San Francisco Multi-Employer Group Vice President Matt Adams said, "The union has said that (continuing health care coverage) is an important issue. Now that this issue is temporarily resolved, we would hope it not be used as a delay tactic and that we work hard and in good faith to get a contract" (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/17).
Negotiations are expected to resume Friday (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 11/17).