Kaiser Permanente mental health workers and supporters march outside a Kaiser facility in Sacramento, California, Aug. 15, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli | AP
Over 60,000 healthcare workers have voted to potentially strike against Kaiser Permanente if an agreement is not reached before the expiration of their current contract on Sept. 30. This decision comes after members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West casted 98% of their votes in favor of a strike. Their concerns mainly revolve around inadequate pay adjustments to match inflation rates, understaffing issues resulting in long waiting times for patients, and the overall neglect of patient care.
The SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West union in California has more than 57,000 members, including various healthcare professionals such as medical assistants, surgical technicians, and social workers. On the same note, 4,000 healthcare workers in Oregon and Washington state have also authorized potential strikes against Kaiser. Additionally, 3,000 workers from Colorado previously voted to authorize strikes against Kaiser.
All of these labor groups are united under the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, representing a total of 85,000 healthcare workers. If the proposed strikes were to take place, they would make history as the largest strike by healthcare workers in the United States.
Kaiser Permanente, a nonprofit health plan, serves nearly 13 million members nationwide and operates 39 hospitals, along with over 600 medical offices in eight states and Washington, D.C.
Contract negotiations between the coalition and Kaiser Permanente began in April. The unions’ previous contract was negotiated in 2019, prior to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic on the healthcare system. The final national bargaining session is scheduled for Sept. 21-22.
Expressing disappointment with Kaiser’s negotiation efforts, Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, claimed that the organization has failed to negotiate in good faith and that their proposals would exacerbate staffing problems. In a Thursday statement, Regan emphasized the resolve of the 60,000 frontline workers, stating, “We will simply not stand by as Kaiser violates the law and puts patients at risk.”
Responding to the potential strike, Kaiser Permanente issued a statement on Thursday, dismissing the unions’ claims as misleading and calling on employees to resist any call for an actual strike. The organization reassured that it has implemented a comprehensive plan to ensure continued access to healthcare if a strike were to occur. In late August, Kaiser characterized the strike threats as “disappointing” and refuted union claims of acting in bad faith as “unfounded and counterproductive.”
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