ADVERTISEMENT

Kaleida Health and its three major unions announced a tentative contract agreement Thursday after the parties settled two key issues – health insurance and wages.

The three-year proposed deal for 7,300 workers allows Western New York’s largest hospital system to enroll new employees into Align, a new health insurance offering, while offering the health plan to existing employees on a voluntary basis, according to several people involved in bargaining. It also provides for a cash bonus to employees this year and a wage increase next year, followed by a contract reopener to negotiate wages for the third year.

“We probably reached every goal we had going into bargaining, and we feel our proposals were responsible ones,” said Cori Gambini, president of Local 1168, Communication Workers of America.

Kaleida Health includes Buffalo General, Women & Children’s, Millard Fillmore Suburban and DeGraff Memorial hospitals.

The tentative agreement came after union membership earlier this month voted to give its bargaining committee authorization to call for a strike if there was no agreement by today.

Kaleida and the three unions – Local 1168, CWA; Local 17, International Union of Operating Engineers; and Local 1199 SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East – held more than 30 negotiating sessions since March over dozens of issues to forge the complicated master agreement. A previous agreement between the unions and Kaleida Health expired May 31 but was extended to today.

“The fundamental message of this agreement is that we are investing in our employees by improving wages and benefits and that we are introducing the Align insurance product as an option,” said James R. Kaskie, president and chief executive officer of Kaleida Health, which employs about 10,000 workers.

Gambini characterized the agreement as a fair” deal that helped Kaleida Health save money in the first year because of no percentage pay raise and that gave the organization a chance to begin enrolling employees into the new health plan.

Details of the proposed deal were not released, awaiting completion of a final bargaining report to union members. A ratification vote is expected later in July.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, Kaleida Health and a group of physicians are partnering in a new, less-expensive health insurance option marketed to small groups, individuals and self-funded businesses.

The new “tailored network” called Align offers lower premiums in exchange for restrictions on hospitals and doctors. Kaleida Health will serve as the primary health system in the network.

Gambini said union reluctance to join Align was not a reflection of the care at Kaleida Health but, instead, arose from concerns about the benefit structure of the health insurance plan.

“Align has great potential, but it needs work,” she said, referring to questions the union had about access to care and the size of the provider network.

She said the Align plan that new employees will be enrolled into is better than the one that was presented during negotiations.

Kaskie said the proposed agreement represents the unions’ endorsement of a health plan that it’s hoped will one day become the employees’ preferred plan.

“We need to fundamentally change the economics of health care,” he said, referring to the goals of Align. “We need to create a better model, one in which those involved have a shared interest in changing the way care is delivered and paid for.”

email: hdavis@buffnews.com