The unions say they need an agreement by the end of the week, or they will walk out in October. It would be the largest healthcare worker strike in U.S. history.
The next week will determine if unions will launch what they describe as the largest healthcare worker strike in U.S. history.
More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente employees say if they can’t secure an agreement with the system by the end of the week, then they will stage a three-day strike Oct. 4-6. The current contract ends Saturday, Sept. 30.
Over the last few weeks, Kaiser Permanente workers have cast ballots in strike authorization votes in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The votes have been overwhelming to authorize a walkout, unless they can reach a new deal.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions said workers would walk out at 6 a.m. Oct. 4 and return at 6 a.m. Oct. 7.
“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 a statement.
Kaiser Permanente has noted that over the last 26 years, the system has been able to finalize contracts with the union before any walkouts have occurred. The health system says it has made fair offers that would include substantial raises and strong benefits packages.
The Coalition says the system’s offers have been inadequate. The unions say they need better pay, which they say is especially critical for the many Kaiser Permanente workers who reside in high-cost areas. Unions also insist they need better commitments on staffing levels to improve safety for patients and workers.
The unions issued a 10-day strike notice to Kaiser Permanente Friday morning.
Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, focused on staffing concerns in a statement issued Friday. SEIU-UHW represents more than 60,000 workers.
“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,” Regan said in a statement.
An SEIU-UHW survey in May 2022 found that two-thirds of its members say insufficient staffing has led to delays or denial of patient care.
Kaiser Permanente says it is offering across-the-board wage hikes, including a starting minimum wage of $21 an hour, along with what it describes as “excellent” health and retirement benefits.
Kaiser Permanemte says it is offering raises of 10%-14% over the next four years. The increases vary by market. The system is offering additional lump sum payments in California. The system says its philosophy is to pay up to 10% above market rates.
In addition, the system says it is close to reaching a goal of hiring 10,000 workers for coalition jobs in 2023, a target jointly set with the union. Kaiser Permanente says more than 9,700 positions have been filled.
The system also points to a turnover rate of 7% as an indication of its efforts to treat workers fairly.
“To be clear, we will continue to bargain in good faith until we reach a fair and equitable agreement that strengthens our position as a best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement Friday.
The system has also said it is making preparations to maintain patient care if a strike occurs.
Based in Oakland, Calif., Kaiser Permanente operates 39 hospitals and more than 600 other medical offices in several states. The organization employs more than 200,000 workers.
Hospitals have seen some high-profile labor battles over the past year.
In January, thousands of nurses in New York went on strike before coming to an agreement on a contract. About 15,000 Minnesota nurses took part in a three-day strike in September 2022, and they threatened a second walkout in December, but labor and management reached a deal.