Union Alliance hails contributions, courage and convictions of Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson

We are shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of one of our country’s great leaders. Bernard J. Tyson was a visionary labor-management leader — and a committed, compassionate innovator unafraid to speak the truth and seek solutions on health care delivery, care disparities, care for transgender and other vulnerable populations, income inequality, climate change, racial profiling and homelessness. 

Bernard was committed to a vision of making health care affordable for all Americans.  He worked closely with the Obama administration on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and when other insurance providers pulled out of the ACA marketplaces, he made it clear that Kaiser Permanente would remain active there.

We understand Kaiser Permanente’s board has appointed Greg Adams as interim CEO. We’re confident Greg will provide effective leadership at this challenging time and continue Bernard’s legacy of support for the labor management partnership.

Bernard was a champion and one of the founders of Kaiser Permanente’s groundbreaking Labor Management Partnership, the largest and most successful such partnership in the U.S. He made clear that Partnership was central to Kaiser Permanente's business strategy and to how KP offered quality health care to the communities it serves. 

"Our mission is such that the Partnership will be here forever," said Bernard, marking the 20th anniversary of our Labor Management Partnership.

Bernard’s championing of labor-management partnership — a unique approach to engaging frontline union members in decisions about how care is delivered — is characteristic of his willingness to innovate. I’ve received many calls, text and emails from shocked and grieving union members today. 

Our members knew Bernard well because he made it a point to come to each of our annual union leadership conferences, and he insisted on taking unscreened questions from the floor, responding with candor and humor. I believe he was the only major CEO in America to welcome open-ended, public questions from frontline union workers. His last appearance at our Alliance Leadership Conference was on October 4 in Los Angeles, when in characteristic fashion he noted, “We have not always agreed with each other at any given time, but we have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable.”

When visiting Kaiser Permanente's health care facilities, he personally met with and recognized the Unit Based Teams – 3,500-jointly-led work groups bringing union members, physicians and managers together to improve care.  By working in partnership, Bernard said, “We have tapped into the potential of smart people all over the organization coming here every single day trying to figure out, ‘How do I improve quality, how do I improve service, how do I improve affordability?’ That’s an incredible competitive advantage for the organization.”

Denise Duncan, president of UNAC-UHCP, recalled how “close so many union members were to him. He made them feel he was part of them, and that he came from the same place. He carefully listened to our members’ presentations about the innovations they had made in their unit-based teams, and he would speak to the power of our members and what they brought to the community of patients that receive care in KP. He’d then go on to highlight this level of work when he spoke to those outside of KP. That made such a difference to so many of us.” 

Our 50,000 members are holding his family in our hearts today. We will never forget his contributions, courage and convictions.

About the Alliance of Health Care Unions: The Alliance is made up of 21 Local Unions representing more than 50,000 Kaiser Permanente employees, including ILWU, IUOE, KPNAA, OFNHP (AFT), Teamsters (IBT), UFCW, UNAC-UHCP (AFSCME), UNITE HERE, and USW. Our mission is to empower our union members, using our collective voice and our partnership to sustain high performance at Kaiser Permanente, thereby improving lives by securing leading wages, quality work-life, and quality care. More info at ahcunions.org.