Just two days before at least 24,000 Kaiser Permanente employees were set to go on strike to advocate for better wages and working conditions, a tentative agreement for a four-year contract with labor unions was made — staving off the majority of the planned walkouts.
It was announced last month that thousands of Kaiser employees would begin a week-long strike beginning on November 15 and ending on November 22, which was expected to have a severe impact on Kaiser Permanente's outpatient pharmacies in NorCal. Well, it appears that some outcomes of the strike on those pharmacies will be mitigated, thanks to an agreement made between Kaiser and 22 unions that make up the Alliance of Health Care Unions.
But members of the Guild for Professional Pharmacists and Local 39 Operating Engineers, which were not included in the agreement, are still expected to go on strike Monday — causing shutdowns of Bay Area outpatient pharmacies, a Kaiser spokesperson confirmed to Mercury News.
“KP has not been informed of any changes to Pharmacy Guild or Local 39 Operating Engineers strike plans and our contingency plans remain in effect,” said Kaiser spokesperson Karl Sonkin in a statement gathered by the news outlet. “We are continuing to bargain in good faith with the Guild for Professional Pharmacists and Local 39 Operating Engineers and hope to reach agreements very soon.”
Saturday's agreement with the other 22 unions comes after about five months of back and forth that saw the removal of Kaiser's proposal for a controversial two-tiered payment system — essentially cutting wages for new hires, while simultaneously straining already hired employees, for profitability.
The current tentative agreement now includes wage increases every year through 2025 for all Alliance members, has no reductions to low-cost family medical and dental coverage, and will increase both retirement income benefits; members of the Alliance can also expect regular bonuses. It's unclear if there are additional benefits — or what plans exist to renegotiate these terms after 2025 — but the agreement will thwart what would've been one of the largest strikes in the country’s healthcare system... ever.
With 350 Kaiser Permanente facilities sprinkled across Northern and Southern California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii, the effects from having widespread staff shortages would've been felt at nearly every Kaiser location.
“This agreement will mean patients will continue to receive the best care, and Alliance members will have the best jobs,” said the Alliance’s Executive Director Hal Ruddick in a statement Saturday. “This contract protects our patients, provides safe staffing and guarantees fair wages and benefits for every Alliance member.”
But again: Unionized Kaiser workers who are members of either the Guild for Professional Pharmacists or Local 39 Operating Engineers in NorCal are still expected to walk out, should an agreement not be made before Monday.
Multiple news outlets have confirmed that for urgent prescriptions, Kaiser staff will provide directions for refills at local retail pharmacies; hospital pharmacies for inpatient care and critical services will remain open with unaffected hours.
“There’s no need to call or email your doctor’s office at this time," Kaiser wrote in an email procured by Mercury News. "We apologize for any inconvenience."
For information on Kaiser Permanente's pharmacy services in SF, as well as about home delivery, visit thrive.kaiserpermanente.org.
Top Image: Kaiser Permanente union workers hold on strike signs during an informational picket outside of the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center on November 10, 2021 in San Francisco, California. Kaiser Permanente nurses and workers are staging informational pickets across California as thousands of Kaiser workers are preparing to strike for higher wages and safer working conditions. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)