KAISER-UNION PARTNERSHIP: Opinions Vary After Two Years
Two years into a "novel partnership" between Kaiser Permanente and the various unions that represent its 70,000 California employees, reaction is still mixed, as the California Nurses Association has refused to even sign on while others laud the arrangement. In 1997, Kaiser agreed to give its employees more latitude in unionizing and add union members to labor-management quality councils, in exchange for a more cooperative arrangement for dispute resolution. "This is the largest, most complex labor- management partnership in the country, perhaps the world," said Pete diCicco of the AFL-CIO, which coordinates the union end of the bargain. Dick Pettingill, president of Kaiser's California division, said, "We're creating an environment where labor and management can sit around a table and solve their problems with less friction, which should improve the way we deliver patient care." The San Francisco Chronicle reports that labor has been receptive to Kaiser's overtures. Sal Rosselli, president of Service Employees International Union Local 250, said, "Kaiser isn't perfect, but it's the least offensive. They've done one big thing no other health care employer has done -- include the rank-and-file people who provide health care at the same table, in equal numbers, with physicians and managers to make decisions about how care should be done."
The California Nurses Association, the most conspicuous of the five unions that did not sign on to Kaiser's offer, decries the "sham of a partnership" signed while its nurses were striking. "CNA feels the partnership was used by Kaiser in an attempt to defeat us," said CNA leader Jim Ryder. And CNA's allies, such as consumer advocate Ralph Nader, say its style serves workers better than the conciliatory style of the AFL-CIO-backed unions. He said, "CNA is the lighthouse for labor in the entire country. They have all the old-fashioned sense of proper militancy versus management." But Maureen Anderson, who represents the unions in the partnership, said, "Ralph Nader wouldn't know a hospital from an airline hanger. He ran out of issues a decade ago, and he's been trying to get involved with health care when he doesn't live here and he doesn't know anything about the issues" (Abate, 5/7).