The International Union of Operating Engineers – Local 39 Stationary Engineers, a union currently in contract bargaining with Kaiser Permanente, began a work stoppage on September 18, 2021, at Kaiser Permanente Northern California facilities. It is important for our members, patients, and employees to know that our medical offices and buildings are open and operating as usual. We have contingency plans in place that allow us to continue to provide high-quality care and services to our members and patients without interruption.
The last 20 months of this pandemic have been an incredibly challenging and stressful time to work on the front lines of health care. We are extremely grateful for our front-line health care workforce, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring, and to our labor partners who stood side-by-side with us through this unprecedented period in the history of health care.
We have worked hard to ease the stresses that this pandemic has caused our people. Since early in the pandemic response, Kaiser Permanente has provided nearly $600 million in employee assistance to ensure that our front-line employees had access to alternate housing, special child care grants, and additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure. When it became clear at year-end that the effects of the pandemic could reduce our workers’ performance bonuses, we instead chose to guarantee all eligible union-represented employees at least a 100% payout of their performance bonus, amounting to thousands of dollars a person on average.
We have an incredible workforce and will always treat them with dignity and respect, which includes providing our employees with excellent, market-competitive wages and benefits. Today, Kaiser Permanente has more than 60 union contracts and is proud to employ more than 160,000 union-represented employees — more than any other health care organization in the country.
Unfortunately, this union frequently uses strikes or the threat of strikes as a bargaining tool in its contract negotiations with Kaiser Permanente and many other employers. We believe continued discussion at the bargaining table is the best way to resolve issues and reach an agreement.
We are seeking no takeaways in our contract proposal with Local 39. We are offering wage increases and bonuses that would provide employees with an average of $3,600 more each year. This would keep our operating engineers among the best compensated in their profession and continue to ensure that we attract and retain the most highly skilled professionals. However, in the midst of an economic downturn where people are struggling to keep their health care, the union is demanding increases that would make it even more difficult for us to keep health care affordable for our members.
We will continue to bargain in good faith with Local 39 in the hope of reaching a final, mutually beneficial contract as soon as possible. We have met with Local 39 a total of 9 times for bargaining since July, including September 18. We’re pleased to have already reached agreements on 3 specific provisions of a new contract and look forward to future bargaining sessions to complete the remainder.
Across Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, our operating engineers earn an average of $120,000 a year. In contrast, similar engineers in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, and New York, on average earn less than $100,000.
In addition to earning market-competitive wages, our operating engineers enjoy generous retirement benefits with both a 401k and a pension. Kaiser Permanente also offers these valued employees comprehensive medical benefits with no- or very low out-of-pocket costs, including medical coverage after retirement, which Kaiser Permanente highly subsidizes.
The total value of these benefits and wages exceeds $180,000 per year.
Despite the union leadership’s tactics, we are committed to continue to negotiate in good faith. We value all of our employees and are calling on them to talk to their union leadership and urge them to reach an agreement as soon as possible. We look forward to having our valued Kaiser Permanente engineers back with the rest of our Kaiser Permanente family serving our patients and members during this challenging time.