1,350 Kaiser workers in Northern California to join nationwide strike

Kaiser Permanente healthcare professionals in Northern California, who are represented by the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, will strike beginning Nov. 22.

The 1,350 physical and occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists, are demanding that Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser invest in patient care and workers, the union said in a news release.

UNAC/UHCP members in Northern California will join nearly 40,000 Kaiser workers in Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii who also recently announced their plans to strike. Groups that have also announced plans to strike in November:

  • 21,000 UNAC/UHCP members in Southern California (beginning Nov. 15)
  • 7,600 United Steelworkers members in Southern California (beginning Nov. 15)
  • 3,400 Oregon Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals members in the Pacific Northwest (beginning Nov. 15)
  • About 2,500 United Food and Commercial Workers International Union members in Southern California (beginning Nov. 18)
  • 165 UNAC/UHCP members in Hawaii (beginning Nov. 22)
  • Nearly 2,000 UNITE HERE Local 5 members in Hawaii (beginning Nov. 22)

The strike plans come amid national bargaining between Kaiser and the 21-union Alliance of Health Care Unions. The alliance, which has been bargaining with Kaiser since April, represents more than 50,000 Kaiser workers nationwide.

During negotiations, key sticking points include staffing as well as a proposed two-tiered wage system that would pay starting employees less than their more experienced colleagues.

"Healthcare professionals across Northern California won't stand by as Kaiser Permanente executives refuse to invest in patient care. Lives and livelihoods are at stake," Denise Duncan, RN and UNAC/UHCP president, said in a news release. "Especially after nearly two years of courageously working through the COVID-19 pandemic, workers deserve better than to watch management unilaterally depress wages, ignore critical staffing shortages, and make it more difficult for employee unions to flourish. UNAC/UHCP members know their patients deserve the best care, and they're willing to fight to get it."

In a statement shared with Becker's Hospital Review, Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser, said the primary challenge Kaiser Permanente is trying to address with unions is the increasingly unaffordable cost of healthcare. She noted that wages and benefits account for half of Kaiser Permanente's operational costs.

"Over the course of our 24 years of labor partnership, we — labor and management — have negotiated wages and benefits primarily at a national level, so pay has not always been matched to the markets where we operate," she said. "As a result, over time in many areas our wage rates have grown to the point where our union represented employees earn about 26 percent above the average market wage, and in some places it's 38 percent above market. These numbers don't include the value of our industry-leading benefits and retirement and pension plans along with the opportunity to earn an additional 3 percent bonus every year, based on our performance."

­Ms. Peasnall added that Kaiser's proposal "simply aims to slow the significant over-market growth in compensation while continuing to reward our employees and fulfill our commitment to our members and patients to provide high-quality, affordable healthcare."

In the event of a strike, Kaiser said its facilities will be staffed by its trained and experienced managers as well as contingency staff Kaiser Permanente is bringing in as needed. Physicians will continue to provide patient care.

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