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85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers head toward a strike vote

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Talks between Kaiser Permanente and unions for 85,000 of its workers nationwide have broken off.
(Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)

Labor unrest is escalating at Kaiser Permanente, with unions for 85,000 of the healthcare giant’s workers saying Friday that they are taking steps toward a potential strike because talks on a new contract had stalled.

The workers — who include most employees who are not doctors, registered nurses or mental health workers — are located throughout Kaiser’s operations in California and several other states. About 55,000 of the employees are in California.

They include licensed vocational nurses; technicians who work in radiology, X-rays, pharmaceuticals and other fields; and employees involved with food services and environmental services such as laundry service and room cleaning.

All the 85,000 employees are represented by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, or CKPU, which includes several union locals, including the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West local that represents workers in Southern California.

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Kaiser’s mental health workers in California are involved in a separate contract dispute with the company. Their union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, said this week that its members had rejected Kaiser’s latest offers. The union also had threatened a strike, but last month it tabled that action as talks continued.

Talks between Kaiser and the CKPU broke off Thursday and no new negotiations are currently scheduled, union spokesman Steve Trossman said. The prior contract expired Sept. 30.

As a result, union members will vote in late July or early August on whether to authorize a strike, the union said.

Dennis Dabney, a Kaiser senior vice president for labor relations, said in an emailed statement that the two sides “will continue talking and working toward a mutually beneficial agreement.”

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He said that there “has been a great deal of common ground around several major issues” and that Kaiser believes “we have a framework for resolving negotiations successfully.” The framework includes that Kaiser would “continue to provide market-competitive wages and benefits,” he said.

Kaiser is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans. It has 12.3 million members, including 4.6 million in Southern California, and nearly $80 billion in annual revenue.

The CKPU said that it’s seeking to “protect middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families” but that the company “wants to reduce pay increases for frontline hospital workers and undercut their health benefits and job security.”

The union also said that Kaiser’s executive compensation, prices and other financial information need to be more transparent and publicly available.

Trossman said the union wants to restore what had been “a true partnership” with Kaiser, in which both sides worked to “solve problems, figure out innovations and ways to deliver care better.” That partnership “has been breaking down in recent years,” he said.

Dabney, however, said Kaiser “continues to strongly believe in the tremendous value of our long-standing and highly successful partnership” with employees.

james.peltz@latimes.com

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

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