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Health Care Strike

 

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions which represents more than 85,000 healthcare workers in seven states and the District of Columbia, announced Thursday that its members would vote to authorize a strike between Aug.26 and Sept 13.

This would be “the largest strike of health care workers in the history of this country,” said Dave Regan, president of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW).

The strike could begin as early as Oct. 1.

Since the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ratified a new contract with UPS on Tuesday, averting a strike of more than 300,000 Teamsters, the Kaiser coalition is currently embroiled in the largest single-employer negotiations in the U.S. 

The coalition is demanding Kaiser address staff concerns related to unsafe staffing levels and unfair labor practices related to bargaining. Four months into negotiations, Regan said the coalition had not received a counterproposal from Kaiser Permanente.

“Our priority is to reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial and ensures we can continue to offer our people market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement.

“We are confident that we will reach an agreement that achieves that goal, before the contract expires on September 30. And we are confident that our new agreement will strengthen our position as the best place to work and ensure the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access.”

A worker strike would have huge impacts on hospitals and patients in California, Colorado, D.C., Oregon, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

Kaiser and the coalition last negotiated a contract in 2019. In 2020, healthcare workers were thrust onto the front line of the pandemic, working through worsening conditions that exacerbated staffing issues at hospitals across the country.

In a May survey of 33,000 healthcare workers by SEIU-UHW, two-thirds said they’d witnessed delays in or denial of care due to understaffing.

“It’s heartbreaking to see our patients suffer from long wait times for the care they need, all because Kaiser won’t put patient and worker safety first. We will have no choice but to vote to strike if Kaiser won’t let us give patients the quality care they deserve,” said Paula Coleman, a clinical laboratory assistant at Kaiser Permanente in Englewood, Colo. 

Kaiser Permanente acknowledged it has “experienced staffing challenges driven by the pandemic and its lasting effects…made worse by the backlog in care and the increase in needs and acuity we’re seeing across the country.”

The nonprofit said that it has hired 6,500 new workers and is “aggressively recruiting” to meet a goal of 10,000 new hires set by Kaiser Permanente and the coalition.

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