PALMDALE — Drivers on Avenue S on Thursday might have noticed a line of picketers at the Kaiser Permanente facility. These members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West are not on strike, but they rallied to bring forward their concerns regarding contract negotiations that began this week.
“Kaiser has lost their way, so we’re trying to get them back on track as a company that works with their employees,” union representative Melanie McBride said.
As negotiations have only just begun, neither side has yet to hear specific proposals.
Union members, however, named concerns they wish to see addressed during the negotiation process.
These include safe staffing levels; ensuring a “workforce of the future,” which means providing the same benefits for younger employees as those who have been employed longer; continue to create good jobs; and maintain a strong management partnership, McBride said.
The union represents more than 55,000 Kaiser Permanente employees statewide, according to the SEIU-UHW, which includes positions such as licensed vocational nurses, respiratory therapist, radiology technicians, medical office assistants, service staff and nutritionists.
The union plans another event on May 23 at the Kaiser facility in Lancaster on Avenue L. Both are part of statewide effort by the union to bring attention to the contract negotiations and their concerns.
The goal of the action is to “help them understand that Kaiser is successful because the frontline workers do an excellent job,” retired union member Lorraine Rowe said. Rowe remains active with the union as a retiree and is working to ensure today’s members receive the same benefits, such as pensions, as she has.
Those picketing are not taking time from their work schedules, but they took part during their lunch breaks and when they were otherwise not on the clock. No patient care was impacted, union and Kaiser officials said.
Kaiser has contracts with 22 unions, officials said. In the past, these unions have negotiated together as a block. This year, however, SEIU-UHW is in separate negotiations with the healthcare company. The company is also still negotiating with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents Kaiser’s mental health care workers.
“We have a history of really working well with our unions, no matter what the disagreements might be,” said Carole Eaken, Kaiser’s director of human resources business partner for the Antelope Valley and Panorama City “I’m a person that believes that the unions want what is best for our members, as well as management, so it’s a matter of really focusing in. Sometimes we have different ways of getting there, but it’s really important that we listen to our own employees.”
The unions and management have local committees that meet monthly to address concerns, which has helped to take care of issues as they arise, separate from contract negotiations, Kaiser Chief Administrative Officer Linda Lawson said.
“With that rich history of having labor peace, for the most part, I think that we have really been able to focus on patient care,” Eaken said.
Kaiser has a five-star Medicare rating — the highest obtainable — which the union and management attribute to the efforts of its employees.