On Saturday, hospital workers and management at Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit healthcare networks, reached a tentative agreement, potentially averting a massive strike, set to begin tomorrow, that would have involved more than 30,000 healthcare workers in California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. The Alliance of Health Care Unions, which represents nearly 50,000 Kaiser employees through 22 local unions, released a statement yesterday announcing that it had reached an agreement with Kaiser on a new four-year contract that includes wage increases (starting at 3%) every year through 2025, elimination of the proposed two-tier system, health and retirement benefits, and a new bonus plan. The proposed two-tier system, which would have bifurcated Kaiser’s workforce and offered newer hires compensation at a lower wage scale and inferior benefits, along with disputes concerning raises, constituted the core of the disagreement between workers and management, and it appears that the bulk of the workers’ demands have been met.
The tentative agreements will be reviewed later this week at a Bargaining Delegate Conference before being sent to local unions for approval by membership in accordance with their procedures. The agreement, if ratified, will be retroactive to October 1 of this year. The immense healthcare network, it seems – faced with the prospect of a massive strike that would have significantly disrupted its operations – backed down and met the workers’ demands, another testament to the strength of organized labor and collective action to force the acquiescence of powerful employers.
A ruling issued on Friday by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals extended its November 6 order pausing President Biden’s shot-or-test mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees by blocking implementation of OSHA’s emergency regulation, which required qualifying businesses to ensure that all employees are fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022 or subjected to weekly testing. The mandate, the court said in its opinion, “threatens to substantially burden the liberty interests of the reluctant individual recipients put to a choice between their job(s) and their jab(s).” It also held that the companies seeking a stay would have been “irreparably harmed” in the absence of a stay, “whether by the business and financial effects of a lost or suspended employee, compliance and monitoring costs associated with the mandate, the diversion of resources necessitated by the mandate, or by OSHA’s plan to impose stiff financial penalties on companies that refuse to punish or test unwilling employees.” The Fifth Circuit’s decision precedes a Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation lottery, scheduled for November 16, that will determine which federal Court of Appeals will adjudicate the legal challenges to the vaccine mandate pending across the country.
Finally, in New York City, the Amazon Labor Union, an independent organization, unaffiliated with any national labor union, created to represent Amazon warehouse workers in a Staten Island facility, withdrew its petition to hold a unionization vote from the NLRB on Friday after being informed that it did not have sufficient signed cards from workers to meet the threshold (typically 30 percent of the proposed bargaining unit). Union organizers filed the petition at the end of last month, delivering more than 2,000 signed union-support cards to the NLRB, and a hearing to determine whether there was sufficient interest to form a union at the distribution center was scheduled for November 22. Last week, however, Amazon informed the NLRB that it had a payroll list of more than 9,500 workers at the Staten Island warehouse, and the NLRB notified organizers that it did not have enough signed cards. The organizers have announced that they intend to resubmit their petition to the NLRB as soon as possible.
Looking ahead, President Biden plans to sign into law tomorrow the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the House late Friday night, after months of tense negotiations and political wrangling between warring factions of the Democratic Party. The bill will provide the largest investment in transit and water projects in American history – including, according to the White House, the biggest investment in railway since the creation of Amtrak. It will also provide, among other provisions, $550 billion for transportation, $110 billion for roads and bridges, $65 billion to expand broadband internet access, $65 billion to rebuild the electric grid with renewable energy, $47 billion in climate resiliency measures, $55 billion to upgrade water systems and replace lead pipes, and $39 billion to repair and upgrade public transit systems. Moreover, President Biden claims that the bill, which has received the support of most major labor unions, in addition to investments in roads, bridges, broadband, rail, public transit, electric vehicles, climate mitigation, and clean drinking water, will create “millions of good-paying union jobs for working people.” Many unions, however, while praising the infrastructure bill, called for Democrats to pass the second, more ambitious portion of President Biden’s agenda – the budget reconciliation bill, which, though greatly diminished, would still address key priorities of organized labor – in the same breath.
Also tomorrow, in the evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders will be hosting a town hall entitled “building an economy for all” with Stephanie Kelton, author of The Deficit Myth and leading proponent of Modern Monetary Theory; Robert Reich, a professor at Berkeley and former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton; and Darrick Hamilton, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Race, Stratification, and Political Economy at the New School. The discussion will be streamed live on Sen. Sanders’ website tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. EST.