Workers to hold pickets at 50 Kaiser facilities

Members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions plan to hold pickets to protest what they say is a short staffing crisis and its effects on patients and caregivers. 

The coalition represents more than 85,000 Kaiser healthcare workers in seven states and Washington, D.C., according to a union news release shared with Becker's.

Union members began the national bargaining process with Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser in April. Their current contract with Kaiser expires on September 30.

During negotiations, the coalition is seeking safe staffing levels, according to the union release. Union members contend Kaiser has not made adequate investments to address the issue.

"We're feeling incredibly undervalued by Kaiser. We're short-staffed, and every shift we have to do more because there aren't enough of us. Kaiser called us 'heroes' during the worst of the pandemic, and now they're not making the investments necessary to provide safe staffing," Lenetra Stevenson, a patient care technician at Kaiser in Fremont, Calif., said in the union release. 

"Kaiser pays their executives huge salaries while some of our co-workers are living in their cars. We're simply calling on Kaiser to put patient care over profits and make meaningful investments in its workforce to solve the staffing shortage."

Kaiser took issue with the union's assertions.

"It's worth remembering that during the pandemic, we took extraordinary steps to support and protect our workforce," Kaiser said in a statement shared with Becker's. "This included providing $800 million in employee assistance to ensure that frontline employees had access to alternate housing options, special childcare grants, and additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure."

Kaiser also noted efforts related to staffing, including an agreement between Kaiser and the coalition to a joint goal of hiring 10,000 new people for coalition-represented jobs in 2023. The statement also said while hospital staffing is a nationwide challenge, Kaiser's employee turnover rate of 8.8 percent is significantly lower than the healthcare industry's average rate of 21.4 percent. 

Regarding wages, Kaiser said, "The real issue in bargaining is whether to provide one identical, national wage increase for every coalition-represented employee, or provide appropriate, market-based wage increases. In bargaining this week, we have discussed with the coalition the fact that in some markets we are paying 28 percent above the market average wage rates."

Union members plan to hold pickets at 50 Kaiser facilities in California, Washington state, Oregon and Colorado. Picketing is scheduled to begin July 24 and run through July 29. 

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