Kaiser Permanente, workers union reach tentative agreement

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(Reuters) – Kaiser Permanente’s healthcare workers union has reached a tentative deal with the company, the union said in a social media post on Friday, moving toward settling a dispute over staffing levels and pay that sparked the largest strike in the U.S. medical sector.

The two sides had resumed negotiations on Thursday, more than a week after contract talks broke off at the start of a 72-hour strike by 75,000 nurses, medical technicians and support staff.

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

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

Kaiser Permanente and its coalition of healthcare workers unions did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for details on the agreement.

Union officials have said their demand for higher pay was another major point of contention, while the company had argued that it already led competitors in total compensation packages in every market where Kaiser operates.

Company and union spokespersons had said on Thursday the two sides met in person late in the day at a San Francisco Bay-area hotel. Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su was present, as previously announced, to play a role as mediator, a spokesperson said.

Unions across the U.S. have grown bolder in their demands in the last two years, pressing for higher wages and better benefits in a tighter post-pandemic labor market.

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.

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