Members of UFCW Local 135’s Kaiser Permanente bargaining unit. Photo courtesy of the union

The essential frontline healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente deserve more from their company. These unionized workers have given their all during the pandemic to provide the best care possible to their patients. Yet Kaiser Permanente has taken an inflexible and shameful position towards their employees.

Over the last few months, labor organizations that are part of the Alliance of Health Care Unions have been negotiating new national and local agreements with Kaiser to no avail. UFCW Local 135 is part of the alliance, as well as United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, United Steelworkers, and others.

UFCW Local 135 represents pharmacy and laboratory workers, including pharmacy techs, pharmacy assistants, clinical laboratory scientists, medical laboratory technicians, and others.

The national agreement with Kaiser expired on Sept. 30, and the local agreements for pharmacy and lab expire Nov. 1 and Feb. 1, respectively.

During bargaining, Kaiser offered a measly 1% raise for a total of 3% over three years. Not enough to keep up with the cost of living in San Diego.

In addition, they want to institute a two-tiered wage system for new hires. New hires would get less benefits and pay, putting a target on the backs of grandfathered hires. This will create situations where newly hired workers may receive more hours than ones with seniority because they are more cost effective.

It also fuels workplace resentment if some workers get more for doing the same work. A two-tiered wage system also has the potential to underfund the pension if new hires are paying less into it.

But that is not all of the unjust bargaining conducted by Kaiser Permanente. They also want to lessen the performance sharing plan payouts for new hires and reduce 401(k) contributions for new hires in regions that meet sharing plan financial targets. The company rejected staffing and patient care recommendations; rejected consistent wage scales across Southern California; proposed lower wages in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Kern Counties; rejected establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a consistent holiday throughout Kaiser facilities; and rejected establishing a nonprofit dedicated to training underrepresented healthcare workers.

They also failed to respond to many of the union alliance’s proposals, including student loan repayment assistance; fully funding Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust benefits; recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday; standardizing pension benefit credits; raising below-standard benefits; providing support for workers applying for U.S. citizenship; settling fair contracts with new alliance members; supporting the Labor Management Trust; and integrating disability management.

Kaiser’s inequitable bargaining has pushed their unionized workers to the brink of a work stoppage. UNAC/UHCP and the Steelworkers of Local 7600 have already taken strike votes and, this week and next, UFCW Locals from throughout Southern California will be conducting strike votes as well.

The company’s intransigence at the negotiating table has jeopardized not only the earnings and benefits of their most valuable assets, but also patient care. By not prioritizing their workforce, Kaiser’s patients stand to lose the most.

The unionized workers at Kaiser Permanente have put their lives on the line during the pandemic. They have provided the best possible care and they only want to be rewarded with the best jobs, something Kaiser promises with their motto “Best Jobs, Best Care.”

As these workers take their future in their own hands, we would like to call upon the community to stand in solidarity with them. If a strike is authorized and called, please choose to stand with them. They are not only fighting for themselves, they’re also fighting on behalf of their patients and community.

Todd Walters is president and Grant Tom is secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 135. The local has a membership of over 12,000 workers throughout San Diego and Imperial Counties in various fields including grocery and retail; health, pharmacy and dental; meat and sugar processing; casinos; and cannabis.

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