Kaiser Permanente workers ready to hit picket lines again
Kaiser Permanente workers picket Thursday, October 5th, 2023, in Baldwin Park, California. Some 75,000 Kaiser Permanente hospital employees who say understaffing is hurting patient care walked off the job in five states and the District of Columbia, kicking off a major health care worker strike. | Ryan Sun/AP

ANTIOCH, Calif. – Over 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers are ready to hit the picket lines again if the giant healthcare corporation doesn’t show them more respect when bargaining resumes on Oct. 12.

After a three-day strike, the workforce, which includes lab techs, housekeepers, patient access reps, therapists, nursing staff, and pharmacists returned to work on Oct. 7 without a contract agreement. They expect to go back to the bargaining table with Kaiser on Oct. 12.

Another strike could be coming soon.

“I can tell you right now that the people are ready,” Scott Ramsey, an SEIU-UHW chief shop steward, told People’s World. If Kaiser continues to offer subpar proposals for across-the-board pay or continues to fail to address the current short-staffing crisis, a one-week strike may take place in November, he predicted.

Ramsey, who has worked at Antioch Kaiser Physical Therapy for 35 years, expressed his disappointment with Kaiser: “At one time in the history of Kaiser, they were the best place to be and the best place to work. They did offer great care.” However, he said, in the past 10 years he’s seen a general decline in the ability to care for patients. “It’s gotten worse and worse and worse over the past few years,” he continued.

Ramsey described the toll of the pandemic on healthcare workers. They worked through stress, lack of sleep, exceptionally high demands, and in many cases risked their own lives due to increased risk of COVID-19 infection, he said. What was Kaiser’s response to this? They claimed that their employees make too much.

Kaiser bills itself as a “non-profit, but pays 49 executives more than a million dollars a year each and its CEO $16 million. It regularly awards management bonuses. In contrast, according to the union, a typical phlebotomist in Oregon earns $48,000. The corporation has over $113 billion in investments – including ventures around the world.

The workers demand a unified raise settlement and propose wage increases of 6.5%/6.5%/5.75%/5.75%. But in what union members call a bad faith approach, aiming to divide SEIU-UHW members from other unions which are their coalition partners in other states, Kaiser proposed disparate wage increases such as 4%/4%/4%/4% in Northern California and 3.5%/3%/3%/3% in Southern California.

These healthcare workers didn’t go on strike just for better pay. They are concerned about the quality of care of the patients. As Ramsey explained, “Unless Kaiser Permanente makes a serious effort to address the short-staffing crisis, the lives of both healthcare workers and patients will suffer.

“These people here put their lifeblood, sweat, and tears every day to care for 13 million patients at Kaiser, but if the situation remains unchanged it will not be possible to provide the adequate care patients need.” Ramsey says that wait times f have increased to alarming levels for patients to get appointments, obtain medications, and get their room assignments. Meanwhile, premiums have gone up as much as 15%.

“We want patients to know at Kaiser Permanente we care for you, we’re here for you, we will be here for you, but Kaiser needs to listen to the workers and fix their business,” he continued. “They are a multi-billion dollar operation that is supposed to care for people, and they should put that at the front of the bus.”

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Daniel Figueroa
Daniel Figueroa

Daniel Figueroa writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. Daniel Figueroa escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco.