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Judge Demands Kaiser Restore Employees' Bargained-for Benefits

It is safe to say that Kaiser Permanente of California does not rank high as an employer in the estimation of Judge William Schmidt. In a Los Angeles federal court last week, Schmidt cited the "massive damage done" to the rights of bargaining employees by the unilateral and adverse changes Kaiser made to the terms of their employment, including wages and various other benefits. Schmidt ordered Kaiser to pay unpaid wages owed to more than 40,000 workers, restore scheduled wage increases with interest, reimburse employees with tuition expenses and provide all the other benefits it was withholding that were provided for under a previous union contract.

What angered Judge Schmidt was Kaiser's withholding of raises and benefits for workers that voted to leave the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). "It is settled law," Schmidt said, "that when employees are represented by a labor organization their employer may not make unilateral changes in their terms and conditions of employment, such as their wages."

Schmidt found that Kaiser and SEIU had a collective interest in undermining what he called the "fundamental right" of company workers to freely choose their bargaining representative: SEIU had engaged in a massive campaign aimed at telling workers that Kaiser would refuse to honor its existing obligations if they changed unions, and Kaiser's decision to withhold benefits gave SEIU the ammunition it needed in seeking to coerce workers to remain under its representation.

Schmidt deemed Kaiser a "non-compliant respondent" who engaged in exhaustive appeals to avoid its duty to bargain in order to wear down workers and erode support for new representation.

Related Resource: "Federal Judge Finds Kaiser Permanente Guilty of Violating the Law" December 15, 2010

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