Kaiser Permanente, union reach tentative deal after biggest healthcare strike

By Manas Mishra and Leroy Leo

(Reuters) -Kaiser Permanente’s frontline healthcare workers union reached a tentative deal with the company on Friday, moving toward settling a payment and staffing dispute that had sparked the largest recorded strike in the U.S. medical sector.

The strike by 75,000 workers last week had put Kaiser at the forefront of a growing labor unrest in the healthcare industry, including among employees of pharmacies and other hospital chains like Tenet Healthcare.

Spokespersons of the company and the union had on Thursday met in person at a San Francisco Bay-area hotel, more than a week after contract talks broke off at the start of the 72-hour strike.

Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su was present, as previously announced, as mediator, a spokesperson said.

“What they’ve achieved here in Oakland (San Francisco Bay Area) is great news for frontline workers, for Kaiser and the patients in their collective care,” Su said.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but higher pay and increased hiring to address what union officials called crisis-level staffing shortages topped the list of demands. The previous four-year contract expired on Sept. 30.

“We are excited to have reached a tentative agreement with the frontline health care workers of the @UnionCoalition this morning,” Kaiser Permanente said on social media platform X.

The company has acknowledged staffing shortages in the healthcare sector, a fallout of occupational “burnout” from the pandemic, leading to more than 5 million medical workers leaving their jobs.

Spokespersons for Kaiser Permanente and its coalition of healthcare workers unions said they would provide further details on the agreement later in the day.

The unions had said Kaiser outsourcing healthcare duties to third-party vendors and subcontractors was also a sticking point in talks that have dragged on for six months.

Kaiser is one of the largest U.S. medical employers with 24,000 doctors, 68,000 nurses, 213,000 technicians, clerical workers and administrative staff. It serves about 13 million people in eight states and the District of Columbia.

The strike also reflects growing labor unrest across the U.S. economy – driven by erosion of workers’ earning power from inflation and pandemic-related disruptions in the workforce. The United Auto Workers on Wednesday sharply escalated a four-week targeted strike against the Detroit Three automakers by shutting down Ford’s biggest plant globally.

Meanwhile, striking Hollywood actors vowed to hold firm on Thursday in their push for higher compensation and other gains.

The largest number of workers previously involved in a major work stoppage in the healthcare sector was 53,000 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Leroy Leo in Bengaluru and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Sriraj Kalluvila and Arun Koyyur)