On one occasion while in Portland, Oregon, I worked with a colleague Kevin Boyle, in a nurse’s seminar, tackling a move by the Nurses Local to pull out of the partnership. Over 2 days Kevin used the Search Conference process with the 40 odd nurses, to achieve almost unanimous agreement that there was more to be gained by remaining in the partnership than pulling out.

For the last 25 years, Kaiser Permanente (KP) has been the most observed employer/union partnership in the US. KP is a huge not for profit health organization with dozens of hospitals, clinics, and specialist services, employing about 50,000 health workers. Things were not going well in ’96, so KP management suggested some form of partnership to improve performance. That first meeting was difficult as initially only a few unions were interested, however they agreed to explore the process further. KP agreed that the unions could choose the consultant to assist the process, so unions chose Tom Schneider, (who operated out of Melbourne for several years), because he would only work with unionised businesses.

However through very careful and sophisticated work, over time, all 22 unions came on board, which alone was quite an achievement. The process was slow as various disagreements between unions, and between unions and management had to be sorted out, and a few times the partnership was in trouble. However the unions kept it going. I was very impressed by the very sophisticated way the unions finally got the doctors on board, as experience within these projects in health, is that doctors remain aloof and insist on doing their own thing, but this time they finally joined the team.

On one occasion while in Portland, Oregon, I worked with a colleague Kevin Boyle, in a nurse’s seminar, tackling a move by the Nurses Local to pull out of the partnership. Over 2 days Kevin used the Search Conference process with the 40 odd nurses, to achieve almost unanimous agreement that there was more to be gained by remaining in the partnership than pulling out.

The KP partnership despite real problems, which are to be expected in these processes, delivered very good outcomes in both improvement in the health service, cutting costs through greater efficiencies, decent wages and conditions, and a significant improvement in employee morale.

As so often happens in employer/union partnerships, a new set of managers emerged who thought they knew best, and  decided to break the unions, create a two tier wage system where incoming employees would get significantly less than current staff, and basically end the partnership.

In a great show of unity and strength, the 22 unions were united, and decided to strike from Mon. Nov. 15th.. An extraordinary achievement. Management caved in on Sat. Nov. 13th., dropping all their original claims, and as you will see below, the unions got significant gains, and the partnership has actually been strengthened.

This is one of the best examples we have seen of the metaphor/strategy of Boxing & Dancing. Unions/member dance with the employer when appropriate, but are always prepared to fight with traditional actions when necessary. Unions while joining in the consultative process, always remaining independent, so the consultation process is an extension of bargaining. See below the agreement reached resulting from the threatened industrial action.

There has been a lot written about the KP partnership, especially because it has lasted so much longer than usual, and now it looks likely to continue for much longer.

PK gets quite a mention in books by 2 colleagues, the latest “From The Ground Up” by Peter & Marie Lazes, Peter having been involved with KP from early on, and Paul Adler’s, who participated in a Search Zoom early this year discussing his book, “The 99%”, also discusses KP.

Unions Media Release - November 13, 2021  

Alliance of Health Care Unions Kaiser Permanente 

On Saturday, November 13, 2021, Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance of Health Care Unions reached tentative agreement on a four-year contract, covering nearly 50,000 Kaiser Permanente health care employees in 22 local unions, and strengthening the Labor Management Partnership. 

The agreement includes new staffing language to continue to protect employees and patients, annual wage increases, and maintains benefits while providing career development and advancement opportunities for Alliance union-represented employees. When ratified, the agreement will ensure Kaiser Permanente patients continue to receive safe, high-quality care and service; maintain Alliance union members’ industry-leading wages and benefits; and ensure Kaiser Permanente remains affordable for its members in the future.  

“The Alliance of Health Care Unions fought to preserve a Kaiser Permanente where patients can count on excellent patient care and service. This has guided our work for 24 years. This agreement will mean patients will continue to receive the best care, and Alliance members will have the best jobs,” said Hal Ruddick, Executive Director, Alliance of Health Care Unions. “This contract protects our patients, provides safe staffing, and guarantees fair wages and benefits for every Alliance member.”   Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance unions have a longstanding history of successful bargaining to collaboratively address mutual interests of all parties. “This landmark agreement positions Kaiser Permanente for a successful future focused on providing high-quality health care that is affordable and accessible for our more than 12 million members and the communities we serve. It also underscores our unwavering commitment to our employees by maintaining industry-leading wages and benefits,” said Christian Meisner, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Kaiser Permanente. “These were challenging negotiations, but this tentative agreement demonstrates the strength of our Labor Management Partnership and the unique success it can achieve when we work together.” 

 Details of the tentative agreement include:   

  • Wage increases: Guaranteed across-the-board wage increases each year through 2025 in every region for all Alliance-represented employees.
  • Health benefits: No reductions or takeaways to already low-cost family medical and dental coverage with the same low co-pays for prescriptions and office visits. 
  • Retirement benefits: The Agreement maintains generous retirement income benefits and employer-subsidized retiree medical. 
  • Bonus opportunities: Introduction of the Alliance Bonus Plan, which provides annual payouts for achieving new mutually-agreed-upon objectives to address affordability.
  • New safe staffing and workload language: Will ensure every Kaiser Permanente patient receives extraordinary care every time and in every place.
  • Opportunities for career growth: Alliance-represented employees will continue to have excellent career development and advancement opportunities.

The Alliance and Kaiser Permanente have agreed to form a national Affordability and Competitiveness Task Force with specific targets to find innovative ways to address issues of affordability while continuing to work together to protect high-quality patient care.  

The tentative agreement was approved by members of the economic subcommittee of the Alliance of Health Care Unions and will now go to the full common issues committee (CIC) and then union members for ratification. Voting on the tentative agreement will occur over the next several weeks. If ratified, the agreement will have an effective date of October 1, 2021. 

In light of this, the Alliance unions have canceled their strike notifications.  

Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance are part of the longest running, most successful, and innovative labor management partnership in the nation.  

About the Alliance of Health Care Unions 

The Alliance of Health Care Unions includes locals of AFSCME (UNAC/UHCP), UFCW, USW (Steelworkers), IBT (Teamsters), the Kaiser Permanente Registered Nurse Anesthetists, IUOE, AFT (OFNHP), UNITE HERE, ILWU, and HNHP. The member unions share a deep commitment to providing the highest-quality patient care and service at Kaiser Permanente. We work to improve community health through higher living standards, and keep Kaiser Permanente the best place to work. Alliance workers are in every Kaiser Permanente service regions: 34,000 workers in Southern California; 1,350 in Northern California; 6,300 in Oregon and Washington; 2,100 in Colorado; 2,300 in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia; 3,000 in Georgia; and 1,900 in Hawaii. For more information, go to: ahcunions.org. 

About Kaiser Permanente 

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve approximately 12.5 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health. 

United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) represents more than 32,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals in California and Hawaii, including optometrists; pharmacists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; case managers; nurse midwives; social workers; clinical lab scientists; physician assistants and nurse practitioners. UNAC/UHCP is a member of the Alliance of Health Care Unions and is affiliated with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO. ______________________________________________________________________

Anjetta M. Thackeray

UNAC/UHCP Communications Manager
United Nurses Associations of California/
Union of Health Care Professionals, AFSCME, AFL-CIO
[email protected]
[email protected]
(m) 909-455-5146

Sign our Invest in Patient Care petition: https://unacuhcp.org/invest-in-care/


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