United for Good Care and Good Jobs

Henry Kaiser standing amid a group of hardhatted workers

Henry Kaiser standing
amid a group of hardhatted
workers

History of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions


What is the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions?

Today, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, AFL-CIO, is a federation of 29 locals from 11 international unions that represent more than 115,000 health care workers. With Kaiser Permanente, the Coalition has formed the largest, longest-lasting Labor Management Partnership in the United States.

The Coalition was conceived in the early 1990s in response to deteriorating labor relations with Kaiser Permanente. With the help of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department (IUD), 26 local unions—which at that time represented 57,000 Kaiser Permanente employees—created an IUD Coordinated Bargaining Committee to develop a coordinated and more strategic approach to contract negotiations with Kaiser Permanente and to create solidarity and strength among the unions.

The unions formally organized as the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions in 1996 as an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, adopting a new constitution and bylaws with elected officers, an executive director and staff.

What has the coalition achieved?

  • Five National Agreements. Starting in 2000, the Coalition and Kaiser Permanente have negotiated five industry-leading national contracts using an interest-based approach instead of traditional, position-based bargaining. Visit the LMPartnership.org bargaining page for details.
  • Employment and Income Security AgreementProtects union members’ jobs and, if employees are displaced through restructuring or layoffs, provides training and ensures priority redeployment to other positions within KP.
  • Unit-based teams that empower workers. More than 3,500 natural work groups—each co-led by a worker, a manager and sometimes a physician—that work together to solve problems and enhance quality and service in hospitals, clinics and business offices throughout Kaiser Permanente.
  • Service and quality leader. Coalition union members help ensure Kaiser Permanente is an industry leader in quality and service—consistently earning Medicare ’s highest overall rating for quality and service (5 stars) and high HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) rankings.
  • Industry-leading wages and benefits.
  • Workforce wellness. The Total Health Incentive Plan is a pioneering, collaborative approach to improving the health of KP workers based on core union principles.
  • Growth. We have achieved significant results in a joint campaign to help grow KP membership and increase the number of union jobs with full benefits.

 

Why bring all of these unions together?

During the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, Kaiser Permanente faced increasing competition from for-profit HMOs and, in response, cut its workforce and made other changes that were unacceptable to the workers and their unions. These circumstances led to repeated strikes against Kaiser Permanente in Northern and Southern California and Oregon that ultimately threatened to derail KP as an organization and disrupt the livelihood of union members. The unions felt that Kaiser Permanente’s bargaining strategy could drive a wedge between them, and they decided to join together in a bargaining coalition.

A bold new idea for working together

As Coalition unions grew more coordinated in bargaining and union member organizing, they also prepared for a full-scale corporate campaign against KP. But before fully launching one, Coalition leaders decided to test a different strategy for achieving their goals.

Coalition leaders approached Kaiser Permanente with a bold new idea: partnership. Unlike union-employer “cooperation” arrangements, where management would come to labor for help after decisions had been made, the partnership between the Coalition of KP Unions and Kaiser Permanente called for labor’s full integration into KP’s management and operations structure. The unions were to participate in decision making at all levels of the organization, from the boardroom to the front line, and have a say in how to deliver affordable, high-quality care.

After almost a year of discussions, Kaiser Permanente agreed. The partnership agreement was ratified by the members of every Coalition local union, and the Labor Management Partnership was born on Oct. 1, 1997.

The parties agreed to work collaboratively to improve the quality of care for KP’s members and communities and help KP lead the market while providing job security and the highest quality of work life for union members.