Nearly 2,000 Kaiser workers in Hawaii to join nationwide strike

Kaiser Permanente healthcare professionals in Hawaii will strike beginning Nov. 22, according to UNITE HERE Local 5, which represents the workers.

The nearly 2,000 Kaiser workers in Hawaii are striking over wages and staffing concerns. They will join more than 30,000 Kaiser workers in other unions who plan to strike beginning Nov. 15 in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California, citing issues such as staffing and a proposed two-tiered wage system. Kaiser psychologists, therapists and social workers, who are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, also plan to strike Nov. 19 in Northern California over concerns about waiting times for therapy appointments and the caseloads faced by therapists.

"No more healthcare heroes turning to healthcare zeroes. We're going to fight for what we’re worth, for the future of our jobs and our community. We will be here for as long as it takes until Kaiser Permanente wakes up and gets it right," Stephanie Meredith, a ward clerk in labor and delivery at the Moanalua facility in Hawaii, said in a news release.

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 issues of contention have been staffing as well as a proposed two-tiered wage system that would pay starting employees less than their more experienced colleagues.

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 has proposed wage increases "on top of the already market-leading pay and benefits," and the 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.

A strike in Hawaii would affect 20 Kaiser facilities. Kaiser is based in Oakland, Calif.

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