Thursday, June 4, 2015

News from Kaiser Partnership Bargaining

Here’s the latest.

Sources report that Kaiser Permanente is no longer demanding that the partnership unions give up their members' defined-benefit pension plan and replace it with a 401(k) plan.

However, sources say the partnership unions will likely accept additional cuts to employees’ health benefits. These cuts would come on top of the reductions implemented in 2012, when the partnership unions agreed to sharply reduce workers' retiree health benefits. Those cuts produced a $1.9 billion windfall for Kaiser's balance sheet, according to the HMO’s financial statements.

What caused Kaiser to back down from its demand for pension cuts ( least for the time being)?

Earlier today, NUHW sent out an e-mail pointing to the multi-year battle its members have waged against all three of Kaiser’s cuts (i.e., to workers' pension plan, active employee health benefits, and retiree health benefits). 

For four years, NUHW’s members have refused to accept any of the cuts and have conducted multiple statewide strikes to fight them. Meanwhile, the partnership unions have waged no fight whatsoever against the proposed reductions, and SEIU-UHW even worked hand-in-glove with Kaiser management to try to defeat NUHW members' strikes.

In January of this year, while NUHW’s members were in the middle of a week-long statewide strike against Kaiser, the California Nurses Association settled its contract negotiations with Kaiser by accepting two of Kaiser’s cuts (that is, cuts to active employees' and retirees' health benefits). The CNA also created a committee to study possible future changes to their members’ pension plan.

Here's the e-mail from NUHW: 

NUHW just saved the pensions of more than 100,000 Kaiser Permanente employees. 

For four years, Kaiser's goal has been to eliminate the pension plan for its workforce and replace it with a 401k. NUHW has fought this cut for three years and our strength and dedication has paid off. 

After multiple NUHW strikes in 2012 and 2013, Kaiser modified its proposal from elimination of the pension for all employees to implementation of a two-tier plan that would have deprived future employees of the pension. In January, NUHW continued its fight with a one-week statewide strike in part to reject the two-tier plan. CNA was able to leverage our strike to resist the pension cut in the contract they settled in January, and now the Labor–Management Partnership unions are benefiting from our fight as well. 

Kaiser has pulled its two-tier pension proposal off the table with the compliant LMP unions, who would have accepted the cut had NUHW and CNA accepted it. 

This begs the question posed last week by LaborNotes: "Will Kaiser's Labor Partnership Crack?" 

The Labor–Management Partnership has been co-opted by Kaiser and SEIU–UHW to the detriment of the workforce. 

From LaborNotes:

Sophia Simms Walker, a ward clerk/transcriber in Labor and Delivery who's put in 26 years at Kaiser, served on SEIU–UHW's bargaining committee last time around. The experience left a bitter taste in her mouth. It felt like a charade, she said, "to make [members] believe they had some input" — but at the end, there was "stuff in writing that we hadn't even discussed."

She concluded the real bargaining must have happened behind closed doors. "How do they have the [ratification] date set, if they don't already know how it's going to go?"

The technically nonprofit Kaiser is making money hand over fist — $1 billion in the just the first quarter of 2015. Kaiser is awash in new patients. Enrollment in its health plan is booming. Trouble is, say the non-partnership unions, staffing isn't keeping pace. NUHW's mental health workers in particular say understaffing has hit crisis levels. Members have tried everything, including repeated strikes, to push the issue to the fore. 

"They [Kaiser] get a lot of mileage out their rhetoric that they really listen to and value their employees," says Clement Papazian, rank-and-file president of the NUHW's Northern California Kaiser psychiatric chapter. "Nothing could be farther from the truth, in our experience."

Ignored by the company, members finally took their complaints to California's Department of Managed Health Care, which backed them up — citing Kaiser repeatedly and fining it $4 million. Kaiser's response is to punish those who speak up. In May, NUHW members picketed to protest the firing of whistleblower Dr. Alex Wang, who's been speaking out against long wait times for mental health patients.

"We've gotten this rhetoric directly from executive-level management: 'We do not want to reward employees for the behavior of the past three years,'" Papazian said. "It's jaw-dropping hypocrisy, given the philosophy of the labor–management partnership."