Saturday, June 19, 2004

Hotel worker Tammy Omoso, right, shouted into a loudspeaker yesterday as members of union Local 5 rallied for Kaiser Permanente Hawaii workers near the state Capitol.

Kaiser union seeks
better contract

Some 150 workers and supporters rallied
yesterday near the state Capitol

About 150 sign-waving Kaiser Permanente Hawaii employees and supporters, dressed in bright yellow T-shirts, rallied in front of the state Capitol yesterday for better retiree medical coverage and higher wages.

Chanting slogans and shaking aluminum-can rattles, the workers tried to amplify their demands as their 3-year contract approaches its June 30 expiration. The rally also served as a kickoff for a National Day of Action today when tens of thousands of people across the nation are expected to call attention to the need for access to affordable health care.

The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5, which represents nearly 2,000 Kaiser employees, said its workers' current contract is "second class" and is inferior to the benefits that their mainland counterparts receive.

"We are calling on Kaiser to live up to their tradition of setting the standard for health care workers by giving us the health care coverage we need," said Loretta Kahana, a union board member who works for Kaiser's Wailuku Clinic on Maui.

Negotiations between the two sides have been going on since May 25, according to Fred Tokoro, a senior relations consultant for the Hawaii Employers Council, which is negotiating on Kaiser's behalf. He said Kaiser and Local 5 have had several negotiations and have exchanged proposals to amend the existing collective bargaining agreement.

"We do have six more negotiating sessions scheduled next week and the following week, and we hope to reach an amicable resolution to the negotiations during those sessions," Tokoro said.

Local 5 represents licensed practical nurses, medical assistants, lab technicians and housekeeping, among other groups. Registered nurses are represented by the Hawaii Nurses Association.

Mashawn Kelly, an LPN who was waving one of the signs, said rallying a day before the national event was a way to show Kaiser how serious the employees are about the contract.

"We want fair pay and retirement," Kelly said. "We have no retirement. Consider yourself, taking care of patients all of your life. That's your whole career, and when you retire, you have no funds to take care of you."

One of the major complaints of the Kaiser employees is that their retiree benefits only pay $60 of the $98.93 monthly premium and don't include dental, vision and prescription drugs. Retirees are able to use Kaiser's Senior Advantage benefit program that allows them to buy prescription drugs at a lower price than they normally could get them from a non-Kaiser pharmacy.

"It's very minimal," Kelly said about the retiree medical benefits. "And some of the people in Local 5 have family members that have worked for Kaiser for 20 year or more, and they're paying $200, $300 a month just to be able to go to the doctor, have dental coverage, things like that. Not everyone can afford that, and on the pay that we make, we'll never be able to pay that kind of medical bill."

Kelly also said the RNs get twice as much pay as the LPNs and that she and her fellow nurses deserve more.

"The RNs delegate to us a lot of things to do," Kelly said. "I think if they're going to be compensated, we have to be compensated because we're nurses as well. We have to be licensed and we do a lot of things that they don't want to do that they could do, but they get paid twice as much."


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