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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kaiser Permanente and unions reach tentative agreement one week after strike

Kaiser employees rally outside Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Oct. 4, the first day of the strike.  (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
By Emily Alpert Reyes Los Angeles Times

Kaiser Permanente and a coalition of unions representing roughly a third of its workforce have reached a tentative agreement, a week after tens of thousands of workers walked off the job in protest.

The tentative agreement, announced Friday morning on social media, was struck amid escalating pressure from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents more than 85,000 workers at Kaiser hospitals and clinics.

Both Kaiser Permanente, which is based in Oakland, and SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, the biggest union in the coalition, said they were excited to have reached a tentative agreement and thanked Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su for her involvement.

More details are expected to be released Friday.

Last week, more than 75,000 employees went on strike in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and D.C. in what labor leaders described as the biggest strike by health care workers in U.S. history. In most states, the strike lasted three days; in some areas it was a single day.

Among the wide range of workers who went on strike were licensed vocational nurses, X-ray technicians, surgical technicians, phlebotomists, medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and respiratory therapists, as well as support staff such as housekeepers and food service workers.

Workers said they were protesting “bad faith bargaining” by Kaiser executives as unions negotiate over wages and other issues that labor leaders said had fueled a chronic staffing crisis that strains employees and jeopardizes patient care. Unions also said the raises Kaiser was offering wouldn’t keep up with rising costs.

Kaiser leaders said they were trying to reach an agreement in good faith and argued that the organization had been working to address the effects of a national crunch on health care staffing, successfully hitting a target to hire 10,000 new employees represented by the coalition.

Days after the strike ended, the unions warned that another, even bigger strike could be in the works from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8, after a union contract covering workers in the Seattle area expires. The tentative deal, if ratified, is expected to avert such a strike.