American Health Line
Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest not-for-profit HMO, and a coalition of AFL-CIO unions on Tuesday announced an agreement that will “protect the jobs and incomes” of unionized Kaiser workers from coast to coast. Born from a partnership formed two years ago that ensured employee security in exchange for promotion of Kaiser services, the new agreement represents an attempt “to engage in a dialogue between unions and management.” Under the contract — covering 60,000 employees in nine states, 17,000 of whom reside in Northern California — Kaiser will make a extensive “effort to place workers in comparable jobs that offer the same pay, benefits, working hours and shift assignments or to retrain them for other positions,” as opposed to resorting to layoffs (Guynn, Contra Costa Times, 11/10). Further, if new jobs cannot be found for dislocated workers, Kaiser is obligated to keep them on payroll for another year. The first-of-its-kind pact has no expiration date (Silverstein, Los Angeles Times, 11/10).
WAY OF THE FUTURE?
Kaiser Chair and CEO Dr. David Lawrence said, “We believe this is a far more sensible and robust way to build an institution.” Ann Greiner of the Center for Studying Health System Change concurs, saying, “Building loyalty among workers and soothing worries about job security are becoming more important than ever as health care systems look to employees to shave costs and improve efficiency” (Fisher, Sacramento Bee, 11/10). AFL-CIO President John Sweeney commented that the new pact “means that workers and our unions can participate fully in joint problem-solving and planning without worrying the decisions we make will cause our members to forfeit employment or suffer cuts in pay” (Contra Costa Times, 11/10). He added, “Health care workers want to help shape and create change in the workplace, rather than having it imposed on them. And with the knowledge and judgment that can only be gained from actually doing the work, they are the best equipped to design and implement smart changes” (Los Angeles Times, 11/10). Lawrence said he believes that “attracting and retaining committed employees and making the best possible use of their knowledge is the key to meeting the challenges of the future in health care” (Fong, San Diego Union- Tribune, 11/10).
The California Nurses Association (CNA) — the biggest union of Kaiser workers to hold out on the negotiation efforts — was quick to criticize the agreement. CNA Director Jim Ryder said the provisions were “weak safeguards” for workers, adding, “We believe far more is being given up than gained, and there’s no guarantee that patients’ care will be protected” (Los Angeles Times, 11/10). Although Kaiser will still be able to “make layoffs by seniority in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ such as the event of ‘severe’ financial or membership losses,” Ryder conceded that the job security pact “is positive.” Nonetheless, he contends that such negotiations are better done through collective bargaining (Abate, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/10). Consumer advocacy groups dismiss the agreement as “shameful.” Jamie Court, Advocacy Director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, added, “I always think it’s a bad move when management gets into bed with the union” (Contra Costa Times, 11/10).