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Large healthcare strike looms after Kaiser union workers' contract expires

Contract for estimated 75K Kaiser union workers expires, setting stage for looming strike
Contract for estimated 75K Kaiser union workers expires, setting stage for looming strike 00:55

The largest healthcare strike in the nation's history could start on Wednesday, impacting Southern California. 

The contract for an estimated 75,000 Kaiser Permanente union employees expired at midnight without a new agreement in place. 

They are set to begin a three-day strike on Wednesday unless an agreement is reached. 

Twelve million patients in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington DC will be affected. The union represents hospital support staff like nursing assistants, EMTs and pharmacists.

Workers are asking for raises and support but the biggest concern is what the union calls a "staffing crisis" in the wake of the COVID pandemic. 

"We had nurses that just got burned out and just left. And unfortunately, we lost a lot of very good healthcare workers to death," said one worker. 

"There have been good discussions with Kaiser on a number of issues, and while there is no concrete agreement, we can see a path to resolution on raising shift differentials, a fair remote work agreement, and investments in training for both current employees to promote to harder to fill jobs and community members to become the healthcare workforce needed for the future," the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions said in a statement. 

But the statement noted the two sides remain "far apart" on pay raises, protections against subcontracting and outsourcing, support and recognition of the union, an amount for performance-sharing bonuses and a medical plan for retirees. 

"Kaiser continues to bargain in bad faith over these issues and, so far, there is no light at the end of the tunnel," the Coalition said.

Kaiser says it has accelerated hiring to help cover the shortage and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support benefits. But it says it is prepared to cover patients if a strike happens. 

Kaiser issued the following statement: 

"Kaiser Permanente and leaders and members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions are continuing to bargain to reach an agreement. We continue to make progress on key issues such as a redesigned performance sharing plan with updated payout opportunities. This week, we reached tentative agreements in four key areas: travel for continuing education, the use of temporary workers such as traveling nurses, tracking of staffing vacancies, and dispute resolution. It is important to know that while the current national agreement expired at midnight PDT on Sept. 30, operations will continue as normal today, Sunday, and we will continue to honor all current contract provisions. Contract expirations do not mean a strike will happen. We remain optimistic that we will reach an agreement and avoid an unnecessary strike, which the Coalition unions have called for starting on Wednesday morning, Oct 4.

"Wages
We lead total compensation in every market where we operate, and our proposals in bargaining would ensure we keep that position. In some places, a Kaiser Permanente employee leaving for a similar job at another organization would face a 20-plus percent pay cut and lower benefits. Included in our current offer are guaranteed across-the-board wage increases and a proposed $21 minimum wage in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, the Mid-Atlantic States (Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia), and Hawaii starting in 2024; and a $23 minimum wage starting in 2024 in California. 

"Hiring and Staffing
Despite the acute shortage of health care workers nationally, we have been able to hire more than 50,000 frontline employees in the last two years: 29,000 people in 2022, and another 22,000 so far this year. Included in this year's new hires are more than 9,800 people hired into jobs represented by the Coalition. Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition agreed in April to a goal of hiring 10,000 new people for Coalition-represented jobs by the end of 2023. We expect to reach the 10,000 new hire goal by the end of October, if not sooner, and we won't stop there. We are committed to addressing every area of staffing that is still challenging. Additionally, our attrition rate of 7% is roughly a third of the industry average and continues to fall. These achievements underscore the value of a Kaiser Permanente job and reinforce our position as a leading health care employer."

"Potential Strike Starting Wednesday
In the case that a strike does begin on Oct. 4, we have contingency plans in place to ensure our members continue to receive safe, high-quality care for the duration of the strike. Our hospitals and emergency departments will remain open. Kaiser Permanente members can get updates on appointments, pharmacy guidance and where to get care on kp.org.

"We will continue to bargain in good faith until we reach a fair and equitable agreement to ensure Kaiser Permanente continues to attract and retain the best people in health care — and remains a best place to work and get care. That includes meeting our responsibility to continue to balance taking care of our employees and being more affordable to our members."  

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