Courtesy of SEIU-UHW
The coalition of unions representing around 75,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente healthcare facilities in several states is ready to walk off the job Wednesday for a three-day unfair labor practice strike after their contracts expired Saturday night.
Workers at hundreds of hospitals and medical facilities in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington D.C., are set to strike from 6 a.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Saturday in an “initial demonstration,” according to a statement from the union coalition.
“This three-day strike will be the initial demonstration of our strength to Kaiser that we will not stand for their unfair labor practices. If Kaiser continues to commit unfair labor practices, we are prepared to engage in another longer, stronger strike in November,” the coalition said.
“This is a difficult decision, and we know it will require sacrifices of us all, but Kaiser executives continue to bargain in bad faith over the solutions we urgently need to the Kaiser short staffing crisis and the safety and well being of our patients and workers is on the line,” the coalition said.
In addition to across the board pay raises, the healthcare workers are seeking improvements to their pension plans, protections against outsourcing, and solutions for what they say is an ongoing staffing crisis.
“Contract expirations do not mean a strike will happen. We remain optimistic that we will reach an agreement and avoid an unnecessary strike,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement Saturday. “We have contingency plans in place to ensure members continue to receive safe, high-quality care for the duration of the strike.”
Doctors and registered nurses will not be participating in the strike, but the unions represent a variety of other medical and support staff, including nursing assistants, X-ray technicians, lab technicians, pharmacists and more.
Unlike many healthcare providers, Kaiser Permanente is a non-profit system in which patients pay a membership fee to access services. The Kaiser Permanente system serves 12.7 million members across 39 hospitals and more than 600 medical offices, according to its website.
Most of the unionized workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West union (SEIU-UHW). Other SEIU-UHW locals have approved sympathy strikes in support of the unfair labor practice strike called by the coalition of unions.
Sympathy strikes were approved by OPEIU Local 29, which represents office, technical and professional employees at Kaiser Permanente, and IFPTE Local 20, which represents clinical lab scientists, home health therapists, optometrists, genetic counselors, and other technical and professional employees at Kaiser.
“Kaiser executives refuse to acknowledge how much patient care has deteriorated or how much the frontline healthcare workforce and patients are suffering because of the Kaiser short-staffing crisis,” Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, said in a statement. “The patient care crisis cannot be solved unless Kaiser executives follow the law by bargaining with healthcare workers in good faith, and take dramatic action now to solve the crisis by investing in its workforce.”
Demographic strategist Bradley Schurman called news of the healthcare workforce shortage “nothing new” and that it dates back to “over a decade.”
“However, shifts in demographics, the labor market, and the needs of a growing older population are pushing the system to the brink. Healthcare workers are in a unique position to bargain for more, and recent collective actions from Hollywood to Detroit signal that the U.S. will experience increased collective bargaining in the coming years, reversing decades of decline.”
“We’re at a critical moment. Employees have seen power slip from their hands after the height of the anti-work movement during the great resignation, and they’re not giving up without a fight,” added workplace culture expert Jessica Kriegel.
TMX contributed to this article.