[April 18, 2019] OAKLAND, Calif. – Eighty-five thousand healthcare workers across the country began bargaining for a new contract today with healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente.
The talks begin as frontline healthcare workers are questioning whether Kaiser Permanente, which operates as a non-profit company, is losing its way as a self-proclaimed community-oriented health provider, and is instead becoming just like any other large, for-profit corporation. Workers have recently led dozens of actions in San Diego, Portland, Ore., New Orleans and Washington, D.C., expressing concerns that despite its non-profit status, Kaiser Permanente pays its CEO more than $16 million a year.
“Tens of thousands of dedicated healthcare workers are eager to sit down with Kaiser Permanente to forge a national agreement that serves the communities and patients who depend on Kaiser for care when they are hurt, vulnerable and ill,” said Tamara Rubyn, Secretary Treasurer of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. “We’re hopeful that Kaiser will demonstrate that it is truly committed to serving communities and to its mission as a non-profit, and we look forward to productive talks at the bargaining table.”
Kaiser posted $2.5 billion in profits last year, is sitting on $31.5 billion in reserves, and pays at least 36 executives more than $1 million annually – numbers that are more associated with for-profit companies.
Despite its ever-present advertising about helping communities thrive, Kaiser also serves a very low percentage of Medicaid patients, suggesting its profits are boosted by excluding the nation’s poorest people. For instance, while Medicaid funds healthcare for 21 percent of Americans, Kaiser’s Medicaid patient volume is only a fraction of that at 9.6 percent.
On April 1, Kaiser Permanente became embroiled in a scandal involving the city of Baltimore, spending $114,000 to buy copies of a children’s book called “Healthy Holly,” written by Mayor Catherine Pugh, and later securing a $48 million contract with the city. The Maryland governor is asking for an investigation and calls are growing for Mayor Pugh to resign over the alleged “pay for play” scandal.
Negotiations are beginning a year late after Kaiser Permanente agreed to drop a ban on employees speaking out on patient care issues and engaging in political activity. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions filed an unfair labor practice charge in May 2018 with the National Labor Relations Board over Kaiser’s refusal to bargain. Workers said that Kaiser’s proposed ban on employees speaking out about patient care issues or taking action against the company through ballot initiatives, legislation or other public campaigns violated federal law. The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint alleging that Kaiser’s pre-condition was a failure to bargain in good faith, and the matter will go before an administrative law judge in August.
The Coalition’s national agreement with Kaiser Permanente expired Sept. 30, 2018.