Kaiser workers in 4 states authorize strike

Tens of thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers in multiple states have voted to authorize a strike.

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West said members at Kaiser in California voted to authorize a strike by a margin of 98 percent if no agreement is reached by Sept. 30. The vote comes after members of SEIU Local 105 at Kaiser in Colorado voted to authorize a strike earlier this month. Oregon and Southwest Washington Kaiser healthcare workers who are part of SEIU Local 49 also announced Sept. 14 that they have voted to authorize a strike by a margin of 98 percent if no agreement is reached by the end of the month. 

Some unionized workers at Kaiser facilities are still voting on possible strike authorization through Sept. 20, according to the Los Angeles Times. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser is currently bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents more than 85,000 workers at Kaiser facilities in California, Colorado, Oregon, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

If Kaiser workers end up striking, it could be the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history, union representatives estimate.

Union members contend that Kaiser is not properly addressing their priorities, including staffing and patient care. They also expressed concerns about workers' ability to keep up with the cost of living, said management proposals related to pay and workforce development would make the staffing crisis worse, and argued that Kaiser has not bargained in good faith.

"It's devastating to see our patients get sicker and go without the care they need, all because Kaiser won't put patient and worker safety first," Audrey Cardenas Loera, benefits specialist at Kaiser's Tanasbourne Dental in Hillsboro, Ore., said in a news release from SEIU Local 49. "If Kaiser won't bargain in good faith, we're prepared to do whatever it takes to stand up for our patients and the safe staffing they deserve. We will be going on strike if Kaiser doesn't stop committing unfair labor practices."

Kaiser said in a statement shared with Becker's that it "is a leader in employee wages and benefits in every market we are in. In bargaining this year, we are offering across-the-board wage increases, an enterprise wide minimum wage starting at $21 an hour, continuing our existing excellent health benefits and retirement income plans, and much more. These and our other operational proposals reflect our deep commitment to the economic well-being of our employees."

Kaiser refuted some of the union's claims in its statement, noting that the pay increases it has offered during bargaining sessions will put all Kaiser union members above market rates in their respective regions. The health system also pointed to the recruitment and workforce development efforts it has made, including investment in several education and training programs, tuition reimbursement programs, and coaching services for employees. 

Kaiser also said it is committed to reaching an agreement "that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits," and is confident an agreement will be reached by the contract expiration date.  

Additional bargaining sessions are scheduled for later this month.

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