Kaiser workers in California threaten biggest strike in 20 years

Kaiser Permanente workers in California have voted to empower their bargaining team to call a nationwide strike that would affect more than 80,000 employees at Kaiser facilities, according to the unions that represent them.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions said Aug. 12 that members of the Service Employees International Union–United Healthcare Workers West across California voted between July 29 and Aug. 11 to authorize an October strike.  

More than 37,000 members voted to authorize a strike, and 867 members voted against it, according to the coalition. The vote does not mean a strike will take place. However, union leaders have the authority to issue a formal strike notice if they so choose.

Kaiser Permanente employees in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are also scheduled to vote on whether to authorize their bargaining team to call a nationwide October strike.

If a nationwide strike is called, it would be the largest in the U.S. since the Teamsters’ walkout at United Parcel Service in 1997, according to the coalition.

"Kaiser workers all over California are putting a stake in the ground that it's time for this corporation to get back on track and live up to its mission to help patients, workers and communities thrive," Heather Wright, a women's health clerk at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif., said in a news release. "This strike vote is about stopping Kaiser's unfair labor practices. This company should be all about providing the best possible patient care, but unfortunately its focus in recent years has been on making billions of dollars in profits and millions of dollars for Kaiser executives."

John Nelson, vice president of Kaiser Permanente, accused SEIU-UHW, one of the unions representing Kaiser employees, of using the strike threat as a bargaining tactic, "designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente's position, even though most of the [union] contracts don’t expire until October."

He also told Becker's that Kaiser believes the strike threat results reflect misleading ballot questions, and reiterated that Kaiser has offered what it views as a fair contract proposal to unions, including across-the-board pay raises each year through 2022.

Union leaders have said employees are fighting for safe staffing levels, "compassionate use of technology," financial transparency and wages and benefits "that can support families," among other issues.

But Mr. Nelson contended that the coalition has made unfair demands.


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