Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Partnership Unions' Tentative Agreements Are Leaked

A copy of the Kaiser partnership unions' "tentative agreements" has finally slipped through the tightly clenched fists of SEIU-UHW officials.

A quick review offers some hints about why they've have treated the TAs like a top-secret White House national security briefing.

First of all, the so-called “TAs” -- which were triumphantly announced by both Kaiser and the partnership unions -- are not actually TAs. 

During labor negotiations, workers and management are supposed to negotiate contract language for the next several-year period. That didn’t happen here. 

Check out the partnership unions' TAs, which was signed by Hal Ruddick ( Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions) and Dennis Dabney (Kaiser Permanente). In small font at the bottom of each page is the following disclosure: "Note: The parties will approve contract language at a later time." 

In other words, the two sides didn't actually negotiate contract language. Instead, the "TAs" appear to be rough guidelines for negotiations that’ll happen at “a later date.”

So what are workers currently voting on during their unions' so-called ratification votes?

Good question.

Some of the language in the “TAs” is so half-baked that it's difficult to know what Kaiser and union officials will possibly end up agreeing to at “a later date.”  In at least one case, there's an actual blank spot in the TAs ("$______ per year") related to an apparent increase in the "partnership tax."

The fact that the negotiations haven't been completed raises a bunch of questions. 
Dennis Dabney with SEIU's Meg Niemi
  • Who will be at the negotiating table when Kaiser and the partnership unions actually negotiate the real contract language? Will the partnership unions' bargaining team be elected? Or will it be filled with union staffers who are notoriously in management's pocket?
  • Will the contract language be presented to union members for a vote?
  • What happens if Kaiser takes a harder line at the real negotiating table and members have already ratified a three-year agreement?
A full copy of the so-called "tentative agreements" is pasted below. Here are a few items that jumped out at Tasty in his quick review of the agreement.

Pension:  The TAs set in motion a process that appears to be designed to eliminate workers' defined-benefit pension plan during the next round of negotiations and replace it with a 401(k) plan. Here's what the agreement says:
"The parties remain committed to working on a joint vision and consistent strategy for retirement programs. To that end, a joint committee will be established to review the pension benefits provided in Section 2.B.2.b., and reflected in Exhibit 2.B.2.b. The purpose of the review will be to explore retirement income programs for the purposes of recruiting and retaining employees, controlling costs and liabilities, and ensuring meaningful and predictable income to KP retirees. The joint committee will provide annual summaries of its progress, and will make consensus pension recommendations at the next round of National Bargaining." (Emphasis added)
Partnership Tax:  It looks like the partnership unions and Kaiser will be extracting more money from workers' paychecks through an increase in the partnership tax. Today, workers are taxed at 9 cents for every hour they work in order to fund Kaiser's partnership. Here's an excerpt from the so-called TAs. Check out the blank.
"Under the funding formula in place in 2015, by 2017 the LMP Trust Fund will take in less money than necessary to continue to fund existing programs at their current level... In order to sustain current operations while keeping up with annual cost increases, as well as to implement the new and revised provisions of the 2015 National Agreement, the LMP Trust Fund should be increased by $_______ per year."
“Changes in the Employer's overall funding of Partnership expenses... shall be at least proportional to employee contributions..."
Hal Ruddick: "Was I supposed to bargain contract language?"
Health Benefit Cuts?  The TAs open the door to cuts in workers' health benefits in 2017. In 2018, under Obamacare, the federal government will begin taxing companies if companies’ health benefits exceed a certain dollar threshold. This is what’s known as the "Cadillac tax." 

In the TAs, the partnership unions have "assured" Kaiser that they will do whatever it takes "to avoid the tax." The only way to avoid the tax is to reduce workers' health benefits by making workers pay a substantial portion of the monthly premiums, by boosting workers’ out-of-pocket expenses, etc. Here's the language from the TAs:
"Cadillac Tax:  Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition are committed to KP being the affordable health-care provider of choice. As part of this commitment, Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition agree to collaborate in assuring that KP is not subject to any PPACA excise tax. If it is determined in May 2017 that a tax would be levied in 2018, the parties will meet and reach consensus decisions by August 2017 to avoid the tax."
Retiree Health Cuts: In 2012, the partnership unions accepted cuts to workers' retiree health benefits that gave Kaiser a $1.9 billion windfall, according to the company's published financial statements. 

In the new TAs, the partnership unions have made more changes to these benefits. However, the language in the TAs is so vague and poorly written that it's unclear how it’ll impact workers. The language appears to place a cap on the amount of money that Kaiser will spend per employee for retiree health benefits. Apparently, workers will be on the hook for the rest. The TAs say:
"Coalition represented employees who retire on or after January 1, 2017, shall be subject to the following: Fixed amounts effective 1/1/2017 of $573 in NCAL and $279 SCAL."
Corporate Wellness Program:  In 2012, the partnership unions proposed a system whereby the boss -- Kaiser -- is allowed to track and monitor workers’ body weight, smoking habits, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. 

Crazy, right?

SEIU-UHW's Dave "Biometric Data" Regan
In the TAs, the partnership unions allow Kaiser to begin capturing even more biometric data from each worker. By 2016, Kaiser will be capturing the following data from workers: smoking, blood pressure, body weight, A1C, mammogram, pap cervical, colorectal, and cancer. 

Welcome to the brave new world of Big Brother... brought to you by Dave Regan and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions!

Local Bargaining:  SEIU-UHW once again failed to conduct any "local bargaining" on worksite issues affecting SEIU-UHW members. Since the 2009 trusteeship, SEIU-UHW's Dave Regan has not convened any local bargaining with Kaiser.

Here's a copy of the TAs.