Kaiser pharmacists in Southern California reject tentative contract

May 24, 2011

In a closely watched vote, pharmacists at Kaiser Permanente Southern California voted down a tentative contract negotiated by the Guild for Professional Pharmacists.

In a closely watched vote, pharmacists at Kaiser Permanente Southern California voted down a tentative contract negotiated by the Guild for Professional Pharmacists. Some 1,300 inpatient and outpatient pharmacists working at 13 medical centers and 145 medical offices voted 55% to 45% to reject the proposal. The failed contact grew out of last-minute negotiations that averted a pharmacist strike in April.

“We are disappointed to learn that the Guild for Professional Pharmacists rejected the tentative contract agreement reached with Kaiser Permanente in late April,” said Kaiser spokesman Jim Anderson in an emailed statement. “We intend to resume negotiations with the union in the near future and will continue our efforts to reach a contract that is fair and equitable for all involved. We look forward to the renewed discussions.”

The Guild did not discuss why members rejected the tentative contract, but it’s a good guess that benefits played a role in the decision. Union leaders had recommended accepting a deal that gave pharmacists a 6% annual raise for the first 3 years. The deal also included major take-aways on the benefit side, including conversion from a defined benefit pension to a defined contribution retirement benefit for most pharmacists.

The defined contribution would have totaled 5% of annual compensation starting in 2014. Existing defined benefit pensions would have been frozen at the 2014 level. Upon retirement, many pharmacists would have gotten both a traditional pension with benefits frozen and a reduced defined contribution retirement benefit. The failed contract would also have increased employee contributions for medical coverage and limited or eliminated spouse medical coverage.

The Guild is planning its next move, union representative Cheryl Michaels-Asperger told Drug Topics. Pharmacists may join forces with the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which staged a 1-day strike by 2,500 employees on May 18. With nearly $1 billion in profits so far this year, Michaels-Asperger said Kaiser can easily afford to pay its pharmacists and other healthcare professionals fairly.

The prior Guild contract expired on March 31 of this year.