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Monday, September 18, 2023

Nearly 4,000 D.C., Virginia, and Maryland healthcare workers overwhelmingly vote to approve a strike at Kaiser Permanente

Largest single-employer union negotiation in the U.S. inches closer to strike over unfair labor practices

Healthcare workers say Kaiser’s refusal to acknowledge under-staffing, decline in patient care is driving a growing crisis 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – 3,800 D.C., Virginia, and Maryland healthcare workers who are part of OPEIU Local 2 announced on Monday that they have voted to authorize a strike to protest unfair labor practices by a margin of 98 percent if no agreement is reached by September 30. This comes on the heels of nearly 65,000 SEIU members in Colorado, California, Oregon, and Southwest Washington voting to authorize a strike at Kaiser Permanente in the past two weeks. 

This could be the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history, as workers say Kaiser executives refuse to acknowledge the decline in patient service and care and negate the struggle of the workforce to keep up with the high cost of living in areas where Kaiser operates.

“We’ve been raising the alarm about patient safety, but Kaiser isn’t hearing us. Kaiser executives keep refusing to listen to frontline healthcare workers on the issues that impact the care of our patients, and they’re violating the law by failing to bargain in good faith,” said Katrina Schaetz, OB-GYN clinical assistant. “We are standing up for more staff and better patient care. If Kaiser doesn't stop committing unfair labor practices, healthcare workers are prepared to go on strike.”

Healthcare workers have been leaving the industry in droves with devastating consequences for patients. Caregivers say the day-to-day reality for many Kaiser patients is long wait times for appointments, and delays in receiving X-rays, phone responses, and other vital patient services. 

Healthcare workers say Kaiser is proposing to make the staffing crisis worse, not better, with their proposals in negotiations including:

  • Slashing performance bonuses for frontline workers while paying top dollar to managers and executives who do not directly interact with patients.  This will demoralize frontline caregivers by sending a clear message that they are not a priority for Kaiser. 
  • Removing protections against subcontracting and outsourcing jobs to low-wage, for-profit companies, creating less stability in the workforce. 
  • Offering starting pay for certain entry-level positions that is not even competitive with fast food and retail chains in the high cost urban centers Kaiser operates in.  
  • Continuing the ongoing trend from the past two years where wages have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living.
  • Refusing to make serious commitments to develop the existing workforce to perform desperately needed hard-to-fill jobs and to train and recruit the volume of new staff needed to meet the projected workforce shortfall.  

“Kaiser used to hold itself out as the best place to get care and the best place to work, but it is now failing at both. Kaiser can and must do better,” said Linda Bridges, president, OPEIU Local 2. “We are demanding Kaiser bargain in good faith, stop violating the law, and address the healthcare staffing crisis. That is why today we have joined tens of thousands of our fellow Kaiser healthcare workers in voting to authorize a strike over unfair labor practices.”

The OPEIU Local 2 workers are among 85,000 Kaiser workers expected to vote to authorize the strike over unfair labor practices as part of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. Coalition unions in Colorado, California, Oregon, and Southwest Washington have also voted to approve a strike, with voting by additional coalition members in California concluding on Wednesday, September 20.

Following the UPS labor settlement with the Teamsters, the labor negotiations covering 85,000 Kaiser healthcare workers have now become the largest single-employer labor negotiations occurring in the U.S. 

At issue, healthcare workers say, are a series of unfair labor practices related to bargaining in bad faith, along with simmering staff concerns related to unsafe staffing levels that can lead to dangerously long wait times and rushed in-person care. After years of the COVID pandemic and chronic understaffing, Kaiser healthcare workers are calling on management to provide safe staffing levels.

The Kaiser healthcare workers are members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, representing more than 85,000 healthcare workers in seven states and the District of Columbia. In April, the Coalition began its national bargaining process ahead of their September 30th contract expiration. The Coalition and Kaiser Permanente last negotiated a contract in 2019, before healthcare workers found themselves on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic that has worsened working conditions and exacerbated a healthcare staffing crisis.

Tensions have been rising as the workers’ contract expiration looms. In July, tens of thousands of healthcare workers picketed Kaiser hospitals across the U.S. to protest the company’s growing care crisis. 

Workers say that Kaiser is committing unfair labor practices and also that under-staffing is boosting Kaiser’s profits but hurting patients. In a recent survey of 33,000 employees, 2/3 of workers said they’d seen care delayed or denied due to short staffing. 

Even as some frontline healthcare heroes live in their cars and patients wait longer for care, Kaiser released new financials this month indicating they made ​​$3 billion in profit in just the first six months of this year. 

Despite being a non-profit organization – which means it pays no income taxes on its earnings and extremely limited property taxes – Kaiser has reported more than $24 billion in profit over the last five years. Kaiser’s CEO was compensated more than $16 million in 2021, and 49 executives at Kaiser are compensated more than $1 million annually. Kaiser Permanente has investments of $113 billion in the U.S. and abroad, including in fossil fuels, casinos, for-profit prisons, alcohol companies, military weapons, and more.

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