Why Kaiser Permanente employees might be on the verge of a strike

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6 min read
fairly difficult
It's a question of a "two-tier" wage system, which would pay new employees less—a system that's been an issue for several major union contracts in recent years.
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This article is from Capital & Main, an award-winning publication that reports from California on economic, political, and social issues.

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For 13 years, registered nurse Kim Mullen has been part of a successful experiment: a collaborative partnership between the health care professionals at Kaiser Permanente and the executives who run the massive nonprofit. Decisions about the day-to-day delivery of care were shared among physicians, managers, and employees. Workers' input was actively and continuously solicited. Staffing ratios, wages and benefits, patient care—all were subject to group-based discussion and problem solving. "It's a model that puts patients first," says Mullen, who works at Kaiser's South Bay Medical Center in the Harbor City area of Los Angeles. "We have always led in partnership. I now help teach that model of partnership. And we've known what the vision was—like a compass, with our patients' care right in the middle." That working relationship is so ingrained in Kaiser's corporate structure that it has a formal name—the Labor Management Partnership, or LMP—and a website. Begun in 1997, it has been at the center of Kaiser's astounding growth over the past quarter century to 12.5 million members and nearly $89 billion in operating revenue last year.

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The partnership also is under attack by its own corporate leadership, according to multiple health care workers interviewed by Capital & Main, who described the change in direction as surprising and concerning. And many of those workers fear that the ultimate result will be a talent drain among nurses and other professionals, increased employee turnover rates and worse medical outcomes for Kaiser patients. "The whole thing is counterintuitive," says Denise Duncan, an RN and the president of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals. (Disclosure: The UNAC/UHCP is…
Morgan Clendaniel
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