Kaiser strike: thousands sent to picket line
Tens of thousands of healthcare workers have gone on strike at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in four US states over wages and staffing shortages. Picketing began on Wednesday at hospitals in California, Colorado, Oregon, and southwest Washington. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions is seeking a 25% raise over four years and a $25-per-hour minimum wage for all workers across the US, while Kaiser has offered a 13%-16% raise over four years and a $23 minimum wage for California workers. The contracts for 75,000 nurses, ER techs, respiratory therapists, dietary workers, and home health aides expired on 30 September.
Picketing commenced in the early hours of Wednesday as tens of thousands of healthcare workers went on strike at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in California and three other states. This strike highlights the latest major labor unrest in the United States, with workers demanding better wages and addressing staffing shortages. Despite negotiations taking place between Kaiser management and coalition union representatives, an agreement has yet to be reached. Pickets gathered at various hospitals around Southern California, with signs emphasizing the importance of putting patients first. The strike is affecting Kaiser facilities across California, Colorado, Oregon, and southwest Washington state.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions and Kaiser officials are in disagreement over wages and staffing, as an increased number of employees have left due to pandemic burnout. The unions are seeking a 25% raise over four years and a $25-per-hour minimum wage for all workers nationwide. On the other hand, Kaiser has offered 13%-16% raises over four years (depending on the state) and a $23 minimum wage for California workers. Workers like Lissett Marrufo, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser's South Bay Medical Center, have joined the strike to advocate for better working conditions and pay. Marrufo emphasizes that the understaffing issue not only affects workers but also leads to delays and challenges for patients seeking medical services.
Kaiser has responded by offering "across-the-board wage increases," with a minimum wage starting at $21 an hour. The healthcare provider denies allegations of reducing performance bonuses and increasing premiums for members without any relation to healthcare costs or improvements in care. In Southern California, where wages exceed market levels, Kaiser is offering wage increases of 10% over four years, along with lump sum bonuses of 4%, to ensure employees are well compensated.
The coalition has raised concerns about Kaiser's hiring practices, as the company controls half of the private healthcare market in California. While Kaiser claims to have a low attrition rate and plans to hire 10,000 new employees by the end of the month, the coalition questions whether these hires will fill existing vacancies or staff new facilities as Kaiser expands nationally.
To mitigate any gaps during the three-day strike, Kaiser has hired thousands of temporary workers. The company assures that hospitals and emergency departments will remain open, staffed by physicians, experienced managers, and contingent workers if necessary. The strike aims to demonstrate the value of workers to Kaiser and its patients, with hopes of improving working conditions and patient care.