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Colorado Democrats taking cues from labor union in Kaiser Permanente contract negotiations

DENVER — Documents obtained by Complete Colorado show members of the Colorado Senate and House of Representatives are joining other elected officials across the nation in interfering in contract negotiations between Kaiser Permanente and its employees.

Colorado’s more than 3,000 employees are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105.

Alec Garnett
Leroy Garcia

Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, Senate Majority Leader Seven Fenberg, D-Boulder, Speaker of the House K.C. Becker, D-Boulder and Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver sent a letter dated Sept. 3 to new Kaiser President Michael Ramseier expressing their support for the labor union and promising to “educate our constituents about their struggle to protect quality patient care and good jobs in our communities.”

Fenberg followed up on Sept. 11 with a letter to the Senate Democrat Caucus informing them of the decision to support the SEIU.

Colorado workers recently voted to walk out in mid-October along with nearly 100,000 other Kaiser workers across the U.S. Although union representatives say a strike would disrupt patient care, a Kaiser spokeswoman told The Denver Post that is not the case.

“1,200 physicians and 3,200 Kaiser workers in Colorado either reached agreements with the health care provider or aren’t covered in collective bargaining,” the Post reported.

Stephen Fenberg
K.C. Becker

Documents obtained by Complete Colorado include a template from the SEIU for the letter of support from the majority leadership.

When compared to the template, it shows the letter was mostly crafted by the SEIU. Although language about Kaiser’s financial situation and speculation surrounding executives was left out of the final document, Senate and House leadership adopted most of the language written by union leaders.

Former Speaker of the House and current U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff also sent a letter that was nearly word-for-word from the template.

Legislators also received — and some are using — sample talking points in order to “educate” Colorado voters from SEIU Political Director Andy Jacob.

For example, a tweet by Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County says in part: “I support Colorado healthcare workers who are ready to strike; healthcare workers deserve to be heard. … #StrikeReady #IStandWithKaiserWorkers.

Twitter examples and talking points sent out by the SEIU to Colorado Democrat legislators included such things as #WeAreKaiserWorkers, #IStandWithKaiserWorkers, #StrikeReady, #COstrikeready along with:

  • We support Colorado healthcare workers who are ready to strike; our communities depend on healthcare workers to keep us healthy and they deserve to be heard. #StrikeReady #IStandWithKaiserWorkers
  • Kaiser greed = a non-profit that has raked in more than 5 BILLION in additional revenue just this year, the most they’ve ever made – and still refuses to give workers a livable wage raise. #StrikeReady
  • Kaiser Permanente workers are going on strike because they refuse to work under conditions that compromise their health, job security, and wages. We join their strike in solidarity until Kaiser workers voices are heard. #IStandWithKaiserWorkers #COStrikeReady.

Members of the Republican caucus were made aware of the letter to Kaiser through Ramseier’s response, in which he copied all members of the legislature.

In that response, Ramseier points out that Kaiser’s offer — contrary to union representatives —does not include pay cuts or changes to pension benefits. Kaiser has offered its employees in part:

  • Salary increases in 2019 of 1 percent and a 2 percent increase in years 2020-2022 — noting that those raises are being offered despite several years of “significant financial losses,” in the Colorado region.
  • A $40 million workforce development fund and creation of new-hire training positions to address the national shortage of healthcare workers.
  • Preservation of the existing pension plan.
  • A tuition reimbursement program for employees that allow more funds to be used for travel.

Ramseier said in his response he was confident an agreement would be reached before the end of September.

“We are confident that our current proposal is fair and is consistent with recent agreements we have negotiated with other unions who represent our employees,” Ramseier said in his response.

 

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