Kaiser Permanente workers in Washington have ratified a new contract with large pay increases for nurses and service workers.
Workers had been set to strike after their previous contract ended Nov. 1, but a deal on a new four-year contract was reached days beforehand. After more than a week of voting, workers approved the contract.
Under its provisions, workers will receive a 17-25% wage increase in the next 12 months and between a 27-35% wage increase by the end of the contract in 2027.
“This new contract with Kaiser Washington is a win for both healthcare workers and patients,” said RN and SEIU Healthcare 1199NW President Jane Hopkins in a statement. “Our strength and solidarity as a union of healthcare workers, as well as overwhelming support from the community – our patients – moved Kaiser Permanente management toward doing the right thing. We’re confident these historic wins will improve access to quality care for patients and allow Kaiser to begin addressing the staff recruitment and retention crisis.”
There are 3,000 workers employed in 36 facilities across the state – including 120 employees among four Spokane-area clinics. These workers include nurses, medical assistants, technicians, housekeeping staff, physical therapists, social workers, community resource specialists and others.
Because their current contract ended a month later than workers in other states, Kaiser employees in Washington were unable to participate in a nationwide strike in October, which has been called the largest health care strike in U.S. history.
Gains from the national contract made after the strikes will reverberate down to Washington workers as well. Between the local and national contracts, registered nurses, licensed practical workers and most technicians will see a 30% increase in wages. There will be a 27% pay hike for advanced registered nurse practitioners, and a 35% increase for environment service workers.
These services workers clean the facilities to prevent patient infection but have seen “long stagnation” in their wages, according to the union. Service workers will also now be able to access holiday pay when they are sick.
Speaking before the strike, workers emphasized the need for Kaiser Permanente to address their low staffing. While admitting there are not specific provisions addressing staffing, the union argues the wage increases will be sufficient to attract and retain staff.
“We strongly believe that bringing wages to market rates is going to be a very important first step toward staffing improvements,” said SEIU spokesperson Kenia Escobar.
Contract negotiator Alanna Martin said in a statement the wage increases will help workers “catch up with the market and keep up with staff recruitment and retention.”
The new contract also addresses “racial justice and workplace equity concerns,” according to Escobar. These include guaranteed access to gender neutral restrooms and a commitment against harassment of workers who speak their native languages while on the job.
“A lot of hard work went into these historic agreements, but I am confident this deal will help retain and recruit the best staff from across our state,” said Spokane-based contract negotiator and union vice-president Marie Neumayer in a statement. “We couldn’t have achieved them without the power of both union solidarity and solidarity and support from patients across Washington.”