75,000+ Kaiser workers begin strike: 8 things to know

Tens of thousands of Kaiser Permanente employees across the U.S. began a strike this week after their contract expired with no new labor agreement in place.

Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser is bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. Negotiations began in April. Here are eight things to know about where things stand:

1. More than 75,000 workers began a strike Oct. 4 at Kaiser hospitals and medical office buildings in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Virginia and the District of Columbia, according to a coalition news release shared with Becker's. The strike, deemed by the coalition as the largest healthcare worker strike in the U.S., began in the District of Columbia and Virginia at 6 a.m. EDT, before expanding to other states.

2. Coalition members are striking "to protest unfair labor practices and Kaiser executives' failure to bargain in good faith over unsafe staffing levels," according to the group of unions, which includes the Office and Professional Employees International Union and the Service Employees International Union. The unions' national contract with Kaiser expired Sept. 30.

3. The strike is expected to last for three days in many locations, unless an agreement is reached. Kaiser has said in the Mid-Atlantic region, a strike would involve a limited number of employees on Oct. 4 and last 24 hours.  

3. Kaiser, in a statement shared with Becker's Oct. 4, said management and coalition union representatives are still at the bargaining table, having worked through the night of Oct. 3 in an effort to reach an agreement. "There has been a lot of progress, with agreements reached on several specific proposals," the statement reads.

4. Kaiser's statement adds: "We remain committed to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages, excellent benefits, generous retirement income plans, and valuable professional development opportunities."

5. The coalition said that protections against subcontracting and outsourcing has been a sticking point in negotiations, especially at a time when the unions contend there is a retention problem.

6. Workers on strike include licensed vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, radiology technicians, ultrasound sonographers, teleservice representatives, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, optometrists, certified nursing assistants, dietary services, behavioral health workers, surgical technicians, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, transporters, home health aides, phlebotomists, medical assistants, dental assistants, call center representatives, and housekeepers, among other positions.

7.  Kaiser hospitals and emergency departments will remain open during the strike. "Our facilities will continue to be staffed by our physicians, trained and experienced managers, and staff, and in some cases we will augment with contingent workers," Kaiser said. Contingency plans could include rescheduling non-emergency and elective services in some locations and expanding Kaiser's network of pharmacy locations to include community pharmacies.

8. Kevin Holloran, senior director with Fitch Ratings, estimated Kaiser will experience a brief but sharp decline on provider revenues this week as a result of the strike. "This is a very short strike and will not impact the insurance division of Kaiser. It will only have a provider division revenue impact as some procedures are delayed and rescheduled," Mr. Holloran said. "One assumes parties will continue to talk after this short-lived strike, and Kaiser will do everything they can to keep any disruption to their membership to a minimum. I also take the short strike period and what seems to be willingness to pick up again with negotiations as a positive long-term signal."

Read previous coverage about negotiations here

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