Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers in Southern California sent strike notice to executives on Thursday, informing them of their intention to go on an indefinite strike from November 15 over disputes over a new contract.
Up to 28,400 healthcare workers, including a large contingent of nurses, could leave their jobs in southern California. 3,400 more are expected to strike in Oregon. Strike notices were sent by three separate unions that are part of a larger umbrella union that negotiates as one.
Work stoppage could pose a significant challenge for operations in Kaiser’s Southern California market, where union members make up about 37% of the workforce in the region where Kaiser operates 14 and more hospitals of 200 clinics.
“We didn’t want to get to the point where we are on strike,” said Peter Sidhu, a union representative at the bargaining table. Sidhu is also a former intensive care nurse at Kaiser. “The reason we are going to strike is for patient care, because [we] want to attract the best quality nurses.
The two sides could not agree on salaries and personnel issues.
Workers are opposed to Kaiser’s proposal to institute a two-tier pay structure in which new hires are paid a lower pay scale in an attempt to cut costs. Workers fear that this will hamper the system’s ability to attract and retain top talent, and breed resentment.
The union is calling for general increases of 4% each year for the next three years and for greater collaboration and transparency in staffing levels and needs in the region.
He is about to be the biggest work stoppage this year, according to data through September from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If a deal is not reached by November 15, Kaiser employees will join thousands of workers across the country who have been picketing for better wages and benefits from their employers, including workers at John Deere and Kellogg’s.
Open-ended health strikes can last quite a long time. Two examples come from this year alone. Nurses at a Tenet Hospital in Worchester, Mass., Have been on the picket line for more than eight months. Likewise, employees at Catholic Health’s Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, New York, are on strike which currently lasts 34 days.
Workers at the United Nurses Associations of California / Union of Health Care Professionals voted to authorize a strike in mid-October. About 96% of the voters, 18,000 members out of 21,000 eligible, chose to authorize the strike. The results signaled a strong rebuke from healthcare workers who are exhausted by the pandemic and looking to improve wages and staff. Members of the United Steelworkers Local 7600 union in Southern California also voted to authorize a strike. USW represents 7,400 other Kaiser employees in the region.
The two sides have been negotiating since the spring, Sidhu said, and the contract expired in September.
The union’s last major work stoppage took place almost four decades ago, in 1980, according to union officials. In 1995, a strike was avoided after a contract was struck after members voted to authorize a strike.
Officials from the United Nurses Associations of California / Union of Health Care Professionals said they represent the vast majority of Kaiser’s registered nurses in Southern California and all physician assistants, pharmacists, midwives, physical and occupational therapists and Kaiser’s optometrists.
UNAC / UHCP is one of 21 partner unions under the broader umbrella of the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which is leading the negotiations.