Kaiser Permanente nurses 'overwhelmingly' ratify 4-year contract deal with 22.5% pay hike, increased staffing

Updated Dec. 5, 3:15 p.m.

Nurses and nurse practitioners across two Northern California Kaiser Permanente facilities "voted overwhelmingly" to ratify a new four-year contract following last month's tentative agreement between their union and the nonprofit system.

Under the contract, more than 21,000 represented workers secured a 22.5% raise over four years as well as the addition of more than 2,000 new registered nurse and nurse practitioner positions to address understaffing, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United announced Monday. 

“With this new contract, we will be able to recruit new nurses, retain experienced RNs, and most importantly, provide our patients with improved care,” Cathy Kennedy, president of the California Nurses Association, said in the announcement.

Last month's tentative agreement narrowly averted a two-day strike planned for Nov. 21-22, which would have been the largest private-sector nurses' strike in U.S. history.

Other components of the deal highlighted in the union's release included upgrades to Kaiser's personal protective equipment stockpile, workplace violence prevention commitments, tuition reimbursement for education and equity and inclusion provisions. 

"For the first time, our contract includes equity and inclusion provisions and a commitment to a workplace free from racism and discrimination,” Kennedy said. “Under this new agreement, we will create a regional Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee to address systemic racism within the health care system. This is long past due. I am thrilled that Kaiser is committed to a workplace that is free from racism and discrimination and that Kaiser agrees that healthcare is a human right and that we must end racial disparities in healthcare.”

Nov. 20, 2:17 p.m.

More than 21,000 nurses and nurse practitioners reached a tentative agreement with Kaiser Permanente on a new four-year contract that includes provisions for a 22.5% raise and increased staffing.

The tentative deal averted what would have been the biggest private-sector nurses' strike in American history. Nurses working at nearly two dozen Kaiser Permanente locations planned a two-day strike that was set to begin Monday.

The California Nurses Association (CNA) announced the proposed deal Thursday. The proposal represents the "biggest annual raise in 20 years" for Kaiser Permanente nurses with a 22.5% increase in wages over the four-year term of the contract, according to the nurses' union.

Kaiser registered nurses and nurse practitioners in Northern California have been in negotiations since June 2022. On Sept. 1, nurses at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center joined their Northern California nurse colleagues in holding informational pickets for a total of more than 22,000 nurses.

Union members who work at Kaiser’s Northern California facilities will vote to ratify the new contract over the next few weeks. Nurses at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center also reached a tentative agreement and will vote to approve it next Tuesday.

The tentative deal includes provisions to help boost nursing staff, investments in education and commitments to combat workplace violence. Under the new contract, Kaiser will create 2,000 new registered nurse and nurse practitioner positions, including 1,200 new graduate positions, 400 in specialty training, 300 float pool nurses, 80 acute reentry nurses, 50 NPs and 80 outpatient positions, according to CNA.

The contract includes health and safety provisions that will require the health system to maintain a three-month stockpile of PPE and screening for infectious disease. The contract also will expand workplace violence prevention plans to all sites—including hospitals, clinics, parking structures and other sites—and create an investigation process for incidents of workplace violence and trauma counseling for nurses.

Under the new contract, Kaiser Permanente will increase tuition reimbursement for education so nurses can continue expanding their knowledge and skills. The agreement's patient-first language highlights the need to address racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare outcomes, promote the delivery of culturally competent care and expand the diversity of Kaiser's healthcare workforce.

CNA will take the proposed deal to its membership for a vote Tuesday.

“We are very pleased with this new contract, which will help us recruit new nurses and retain experienced RNs and nurse practitioners,," said CNA President Cathy Kennedy in a statement. "We not only won the biggest annual raises in 20 years, but we have also added more than 2,000 positions across our Northern California facilities. This will ensure safe staffing and better patient care."

In a statement to The Sacramento Bee, Kaiser Permanente leaders said, "The tentative agreement honors our Northern California nurses with a market-based economic package that accounts for inflation, accelerates our investments in staffing, and addresses workplace safety, diversity and equity, remote work, and other key matters in a way that is sustainable and benefits our members and patients as well.”

In an interview with Fierce Healthcare on Nov. 11, Kennedy, a nurse in the neonatal ICU unit at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, adds that nurses are "chronically short-staffed, which means patients are waiting longer for care."

"This is unacceptable and unconscionable when Kaiser made more than $14 billion during the first two years of the pandemic," she said.

Kaiser Permanente brought in a record $8.1 billion in net income during fiscal year 2021. But the health system has faced financial challenges this year. Kaiser Permanente faced a net loss of $1.55 billion for the quarter ended Sept. 30, a near-exact reversal of the $1.56 billion net profit it had reported a year ago. Similar to its other recent quarters, the massive nonprofit integrated system’s bottom line was heavily influenced by a nearly $1.5 billion “other income and expense” loss largely attributed to “investment market conditions.”

Nurses have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey by Incredible Health found that 34% of nurses planned on leaving the profession this year, with 44% citing high-stress conditions and burnout as the reasons for wanting to quit.

Under the new contract, Kaiser will create a new regional equity, diversity and inclusion committee to address systemic racism within the healthcare system, according to Kennedy.

"It is a long time coming. I am thrilled that Kaiser is committed to a workplace that is free from racism and discrimination and that Kaiser also agrees that we must fight racial and ethnic disparities in health care outcomes," she said.

The agreement comes a month after Kaiser Permanente and a union representing more than 2,000 of the system’s mental health workers reached a tentative agreement to end a 10-week strike.