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(Updated)Dozens of protests planned for Kaiser, Dignity workers over wage cuts, mega-merger

Union says Kaiser wants to slash wages, outsource more than 200 pharmacy jobs and layoff 700 call center employees.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Two major health systems are under pressure as a union said that many protests are planned at Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health. 

SEIU-UHW union spokesman Sean Wherley told Healthcare Finance that thousands of healthcare workers will protest across California at 32 hospitals owned by Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health with proposed layoffs, wage cuts and a mega-merger at the center of it all.

[Also: Kaiser Permanente IT workers to stage protest over patient safety]

At issue are Kaiser Permanente plans to cut wages by 20 percent for thousands of caregivers in Fresno, Stockton, Modesto, Manteca and Tracy and is also planning a 10 percent wage cut for workers in Sacramento, Davis and Roseville, Wherley said.

The union also said KP wants to outsource 280 pharmacy warehouse jobs in Oakland, Livermore and Downey, and lay off 700 employees at three call centers in Los Angeles County. The union said their plan is to move the jobs elsewhere in the state "where workers will earn $2 per hour less." Protests are planned between Feb. 14 and March 9 outside 32 KP hospitals.

More than 55,000 Kaiser Permanente employees in California are members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. Their contract with the system expires September 30, 2018. According to Wherley, they have not started formal negotiations yet, but those cuts had already been proposed by KP in November. Wherley said they want to be sure that at least workers are not asked to make concessions on current wages and benefits.

"SEIU-UHW has apparently decided that the best way to engage with Kaiser Permanente is to launch loud, false criticism and wage misleading attacks. That may be their approach now, but it's certainly not supported by the facts," said John Nelson, vice president of communications for Kaiser Permanente. "For 20 years, we have enjoyed a historically productive labor-management partnership that has resulted in improved quality and efficiency, better working relationships, and cemented Kaiser Permanente as a great place to work, and to receive care. We will continue to stay focused on the important work of delivering affordable, high-quality care to our members, and improving the health of the communities we serve."

Kaiser Permanente isn't the only system in California facing such protests. Dignity Health is also facing similar events, with thousands of Dignity Health caregivers planning a separate series of 27 protests statewide between Feb. 20 and March 7. At the center of the protests is concern over the pending merger of Dignity Health with Catholic Health Initiatives. 

Dignity Health employs 15,000 members of SEIU-UHW, and their contract expires April 1, 2018. Wherley, whose union is also protesting Dignity Health, said members are concerned about wage cuts and layoffs as a result of the merger and want to know they can stay in their communities and not have to leave for better-paying jobs.

"There is a general cautiousness with any merger that a company will try to make cuts and it creates unease for workers," Wherley said.

He added that there have been no specifics indications from Dignity leadership regarding possible cuts or layoffs. The union is already in talks with Dignity and contract negotiations are underway. There is a negotiation session scheduled for this Thursday and Friday. 

The merger has not yet been finalized but was announced in December.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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