Kaiser Permanente workers in Georgia OK strike

Kaiser Permanente workers in Georgia have authorized a strike, according to the union that represents them.

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1996 announced Nov. 1 that its members in Georgia, including nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare staff, voted 96 percent to approve a strike authorization.

The strike authorization does not mean Georgia workers will strike, but it gives them the option of doing so. The union must give Kaiser Permanente 10 days' notice before a work stoppage.

The union said it authorized the strike because Kaiser Permanente has proposed cutting basic cost-of-living increases and benefits and instituted a two-tiered wage system that would pay starting employees less than their more experienced colleagues.

"This is a time when companies like Kaiser Permanente should be investing in our essential healthcare workers, not creating a race to the bottom for the workers who keep us healthy and safe," Steve Lomax, president of the union local, said in a news release. "These workers have given everything, from time with their families to their health and safety, to make sure patients are taken care of in the middle of the deadliest pandemic in American history. The fact that Kaiser Permanente executives want to take this opportunity to flatline wages and benefits for these workers is not only wrong, but it also hurts the health and wellness of our communities across Georgia."

The strike authorization approval in Georgia comes as other workers who are part of the 21-union Alliance of Health Care Unions have authorized strikes as well. The alliance represents more than 50,000 Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente workers nationwide.

Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice President of Human Resources Arlene Peasnall, in a statement shared with Becker's Oct. 28, said that the crux of the issues in bargaining is that healthcare is increasingly unaffordable, and escalating wages are half of the health system's costs. She said Kaiser Permanente is committed to continuing to offer employees market-leading wages and benefits but cannot continue to allow costs to exceed what its members can afford. 

"The challenge we are trying to address is that if we continue to increase costs so high above the marketplace, our members will not be able to afford to get the care they need," said Ms. Peasnall. "We have to work together to address this challenge in a way that honors and rewards our employees and recognizes the increasing difficulty our members and customers face in paying for care."

In a separate statement issued Nov. 2, Kaiser Permanente said there has been progress in negotiations, but if a strike occurs, Kaiser Permanente facilities will be staffed by Kaiser Permanente physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff. 

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