September 28, 2005

Kaiser Permanente, 29 Local Unions Agree To New Five-Year Agreement

Unique labor-management partnership yields improved results for health care leader

Washington, DC – Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions today announced a new five-year agreement that covers 82,000 employees, 29 local unions, and more than 400 facilities in eight states and the District of Columbia.

The new five-year agreement provides an annual average 4.5 percent wage and benefits increase, a range of performance-based bonus opportunities, an expanded range of retirement packages tied to organizational performance improvements, and an investment in a joint-training fund for workforce development. The agreement also covers topics such as membership growth, service quality, workforce development, work redesign and attendance - topics rarely, if ever, negotiated in traditional bargaining.

This second national agreement is the result of Kaiser Permanente's unique Labor Management Partnership, created in 1997. It is the largest and most comprehensive partnership of its kind, credited with creating a high-performance workplace that has yielded superior health care and business results.

"When our front-line workers feel direct ownership for the care and service they deliver it can only mean better health care for the members of Kaiser Permanente," said Leslie A. Margolin, national senior vice president, health plan and hospital operations. "This new agreement strengthens our workforce engagement and shared decision-making processes that are key to the Labor Management Partnership. The partnership includes managers, caregivers, physicians and front-line workers in creating an atmosphere that is beneficial for everyone."

In addition, the Labor Management Partnership has yielded other tangible, measurable results, among them:

  • Operational improvements credited with saving several hundred million dollars a year across the Kaiser Permanente regions.
  • Significantly better nurse-staffing ratios, making Kaiser Permanente the only health care organization to commit to implementing a nurse-patient ratio of 1:5.
  • Legislation to improve needle safety for healthcare workers that has become a national standard in reducing needle sticks - and has protected countless health care professionals from needle-borne infections such as HIV. Kaiser Permanente helped write the needle safety standards that California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration now uses to regulate all healthcare facilities statewide.
  • Improvements in telephone and appointment access, claims processing, optical manufacturing, worker and patient safety, and employee and member satisfaction.
  • A 56 percent reduction in employee grievances since the implementation of the Labor Management Partnership.

"While many employers are battling their unions, Kaiser Permanente has forged a unique cooperative strategy that goes far beyond traditional labor relations," stated Peter diCicco, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. "This strategy means that front-line supervisors and managers have union partners with whom they work closely, and determine jointly how work gets done, and by whom. Workers are included in decisions about budgets, staffing and workforce planning, and service."

More than 400 employees, managers, physicians, and dentists met in "bargaining task groups" for several weeks this past spring and made detailed recommendations to the union-management team that drafted the actual agreement. In August the process moved to 44 "local tables" where local issues were hammered out between unions and Kaiser Permanente's regional leaders. This extensive, intensive process guaranteed that the voices of the workers who are closest to Kaiser Permanente members are represented in the final agreement.

Even before this new agreement was reached, survey data showed that the relationship between the Union Coalition and Kaiser Permanente has deepened and matured over the past several years. Earlier this year, an independent survey of employees represented by partnership unions conducted by O'Neil Associates found that 93 percent of represented employees would recommend Kaiser Permanente as a good place to work.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions was first organized in 1995 by a group of unions wishing to better coordinate negotiating strategy in a bitter labor environment. Just two years later, the Coalition and Kaiser Permanente agreed on the new Labor Management Partnership strategy. The Coalition now represents 82,000 workers in 29 local unions in California, the Northwest (Washington and Oregon), Colorado, Ohio, the Washington, D.C., metro area (including parts of Virginia and Maryland), and Georgia.