Central Valley

Kaiser cuts worry workers in valley

As Kaiser Permanente begins to eliminate 1,200 jobs in Northern California, it's uncertain how many cuts will occur at its medical facilities in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

The Oakland-based Kaiser said this week it needs to reduce its work force by 2 percent because of a drop in subscribers and lower reimbursements from Medicare.

Despite recording a healthy profit, Kaiser reported losing 36,000 subscribers in the first six months of 2009 as employees in other industries lost their jobs and employer-paid health insurance.

Kaiser has 3,300 workers at facilities in Modesto, Tracy, Manteca and Stockton, and the number of job cuts at those locations depends on how many employees accept buyouts, Kaiser spokesman Rob Veneski said Wednesday.

Voluntary severance packages were offered to employees Tuesday. In October, Kaiser will consider involuntary cuts based on how many accepted the packages, employees said they were told. The packages include a year of severance pay, health benefits and help finding employment.

The job cuts will mainly affect housekeepers, secretaries, business office employees, and pharmacy and information-management clerks. About a third of the positions are temporary, on call or part time, Kaiser said.

Veneski said the positions were evaluated, so there should be no impact on patients at the Kaiser Modesto Medical Center or health clinics in Modesto and San Joaquin County.

Catherine Salcedo, a lab assistant for Kaiser in Modesto, countered it's not possible to reduce the work force without affecting service for patients. Even before the layoffs were announced, management was cutting back on overtime and not calling in part-time help when employees were sick, she said.

Several employees said they expect Kaiser members will have to wait longer to pick up medications in the pharmacies or have blood drawn in the labs, and "ambassadors" who give directions to visitors in the hospital and clinic lobbies will be replaced by volunteers.

Salcedo said lab workers were told they will have to rebid for their positions.

"We have 39 employees in the lab, and we are thinking they are going to post 35 positions," she said. "The employees left out are going to have to find someplace else, and there are no other jobs with Kaiser."

Some employees are involved in a dispute with the Oakland-based Service Employees International Union and have expressed a desire to join a new union when the contract ends next year.

"Our contract says we have income security and now that is gone," said a Modesto hospital worker who asked not to be identified. "The union should be fighting for us, and they are not."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or 578-2321.