Kaiser Permanente and National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) Reach Tentative Agreement for Northern California Mental Health Employees: Union Withdraws Strike Notice

Nov 16, 2015, 02:46 ET from Kaiser Permanente

OAKLAND, Calif., Nov. 16, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Kaiser Permanente is pleased to announce that, after nearly five years of protracted negotiations, it has reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) unit representing Kaiser Permanente Northern California mental health employees.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, the union accepted Kaiser Permanente's last, best and final proposal, with some modifications made in negotiations over the last two days, and rescinded its notice for an open-ended strike to begin on Monday, Nov. 16 at Kaiser Permanente medical centers in Northern California. The union will notify its members of its decision to call off the strike. We expect our mental health care employees to report to work as scheduled on Monday and our medical centers will be open and operating as normal.

Kaiser Permanente's last, best and final proposal, first made on Oct. 6, addressed what had become the central disagreements with the union, as Kaiser Permanente continued to seek ways to improve and invest in mental health services, and deliver on our commitment to provide high-quality, affordable care for members and patients.

Kaiser Permanente's proposal also recommits to its ongoing efforts to continue to meet our members' needs for timely access to care. The proposal, to which the union agreed, provides for more return appointments in therapists' schedules, coupled with an expectation that therapists will meet an increased standard for the amount of work time spent seeing patients in individual appointments. Kaiser Permanente has already hired hundreds of new therapists, and will continue to hire. Those efforts on our part will continue, and will not be affected by this agreement. The new agreement also reconfirms and expands Kaiser Permanente's ability to utilize outside/referral resources to ensure timely access to mental health care for all patients.

We also asked that therapists make contributions to their health benefits just as the vast majority of Americans, including our patients, already do. About 80 percent of current Kaiser Permanente employees participate in a cost-sharing plan for retiree health benefits, helping to make it possible for Kaiser Permanente to keep providing these excellent benefits into the future, and protecting its ability to remain affordable for members and customers. 

When the Nov. 4 bargaining session stalled, and Kaiser Permanente determined that no further progress in negotiations would be made, the union announced an open-ended strike to begin Nov. 16. To its credit, as the date approached, the union reached out to Kaiser Permanente. With the help of Darrell Steinberg, former California State Senate president pro tem, acting as mediator, the parties worked intensely over the past 48 hours to avert a strike and reached a tentative agreement Sunday evening.

The modifications to the last, best and final proposal included:

  • After four years of no wage increases, wages will increase 6 percent in year one of the contract, 4½ percent in year two, and 4 ½ percent in year three – versus the 6 percent, 3 percent, and 3 percent in the last best and final.
  • Creating a joint committee to review pension benefits and explore alternative retirement income programs to control costs and liabilities for new employees.
  • Granting additional steward education days annually.

Other elements of the last, best and final proposal that NUHW accepted, many of which have been on the table for some time, included:

  • An expectation that therapists will meet an increased standard for the amount of time spent seeing patients in individual appointments.
  • Approximately $5,000 or up to 5 percent in performance bonuses tied to organizational goals for greater access and improved care specifically in years two and three of the contract.
  • Ability for Kaiser Permanente to utilize community and outside therapists and referral resources to ensure timely access for all patients.
  • Enhanced bilingual pay differential for the therapists to help further support our commitment to the communities we serve.
  • Collaborative teams for staff to provide input to improve our mental health services and professional practice environment.
  • Employee contributions to employee and retiree medical benefits.

After a multi-year, protracted negotiation, this agreement accomplishes key priorities for Kaiser Permanente that benefit our mental health employees, our members and the communities we serve by offering competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits to our mental health employees that are consistent with our commitment to affordability, and which provides for more time in patient care in therapists' schedules that will enhance service to our members.

"We greatly respect and value our therapists and mental health care workers," said Gregory A. Adams, group president and regional president of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. "This agreement is aligned with our commitment to improve our quality and affordability and to lead a 21st-century model for mental health care in the nation."

Kaiser Permanente is committed to providing the highest quality and most affordable care while also being the best place to work. For the organization to deliver on this vision, everyone – management and labor, physicians and staff – must work together.

"The agreement demonstrates that Kaiser Permanente and our mental health professionals have a shared commitment to our members," said Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente Northern California regional director, Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Services. "This tentative agreement reflects that after prolonged negotiations with NUHW we have been able to work through our disagreements, and ultimately agree on common goals that are in the best interests of our members, employees and our entire organization."

NUHW members will be voting to ratify the new contract over the next month.

About Kaiser Permanente 
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 10 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.

Marc Brown (510) 271-6328 

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SOURCE Kaiser Permanente