DC region Kaiser workers support nationwide strike

About 4,500 Kaiser Permanente workers in the healthcare giant's Washington, D.C., region have voted to empower their bargaining team to call a nationwide strike beginning Oct. 14, a union representative told TV station WJZ.

The station reported that the Kaiser workers in the D.C. region will join strikes that are planned at Kaiser Permanente hospitals, medical office buildings and other facilities in California, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.

"We believe the only way to ensure our patients get the best care is to take this step," Juanita Bowman, a clinical assistant at Kaiser Permanente in Largo, Md., told WJZ. "Our goal is to get Kaiser to stop committing unfair labor practices and get back on track as the best place to work and get care. There is no reason for Kaiser to let a strike happen when it has the resources to invest in patients, communities and workers."

Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which comprises labor unions representing Kaiser workers, including OPEIU Local 2, have been in negotiations since April as part of national bargaining. Kaiser's contracts with the Service Employees International Union national primarily expire next month, while the healthcare giant's union contracts in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., expire Dec. 15.

A spokesperson for Kaiser told Becker's Hospital Review that both sides have been "working together toward a mutually beneficial agreement," but that the coalition is now using a strike threat as a "bargaining tactic, designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente’s position." 

"To be clear, Kaiser Permanente has presented a contract proposal that would provide annual pay increases that would keep our employees compensated at higher than market averages and maintain excellent benefits. Contrary to the union's claims, there are no pay cuts and no changes to our employees' defined pension benefit under our proposal," the spokesperson added.

Kaiser said that a strike may be averted and that most OPEIU-represented employees would not be able to strike until after their contract expires in December.

According to the coalition, national bargaining affects more than 80,000 Kaiser workers, of which about 78,000 are eligible to strike beginning Oct. 14. Employees eligible to strike are 66,000 Kaiser workers in California, 3,600 in Colorado, 3,100 in Oregon, 2,500 in Maryland, 1,700 in Virginia, 430 in Washington and 280 in the District of Columbia.

 

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