(KSWB) — Over 70,000 Kaiser Permanente workers are set to walk off the job in one of the country’s largest healthcare strikes after the union representing the employees issued a 10-day notice to the provider Friday morning.
The strike, which was authorized by employees on Sept. 14 in the event a deal cannot be reached by the end of the month, is set to take place at Kaiser facilities across California and neighboring states from Wednesday, Oct. 4 to Friday. Oct. 6, union officials announced.
Officials with the union, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers, said they notified Kaiser executives of the strike during a final bargaining session Friday, a little over a week before the Sept. 30 contract renewal deadline.
Throughout the contract negotiations, healthcare workers have been bargaining to find resolutions to understaffing, which the union says has led to issues with patient care and burnout in employees.
“We’ve repeatedly raised our concerns with Kaiser executives about the Kaiser short-staffing crisis, but they are bargaining in bad faith and refusing to listen to us,” said Audrey Cardenas Loera, a fees and benefits support specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon. “Healthcare workers see how Kaiser patients are forced to wait unsafe lengths of time for cancer screenings, room assignments, test results, primary care appointments, x-rays, surgeries, waiting in emergency rooms, and more. We simply want our patients to be safe and get the care that they deserve.”
SEIU-UHW is also seeking pay increases to meet the cost of living in areas where the provider operates, according to union officials.
Kaiser employees have been bargaining with the provider since April. The last contract the union negotiated with Kaiser was in 2019. The pandemic, union officials say, “worsened working conditions,” contributing to existing staffing issues.
Roughly two-thirds of employees reported seeing patients either delayed or denied care in a recent survey of 33,000 Kaiser employees, attributing the issue to facilities being short-staffed.
“Kaiser executives refuse to acknowledge how much patient care has deteriorated or how much the frontline healthcare workforce and patients are suffering because of the Kaiser short-staffing crisis,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW West. “The patient care crisis cannot be solved unless Kaiser executives follow the law by bargaining with healthcare workers in good faith, and take dramatic action now to solve the crisis by investing in its workforce.”
In a statement released after the union voted to authorize a strike, Kaiser representatives said they have worked with the union to accelerate hiring this year, including bringing on 10,000 new people to union jobs with the provider. About 9,000 of those jobs have been filled, according to Kaiser.
“Kaiser Permanente is a leader in employee wages and benefits in every market we are in,” the statement said. They added that they offered an enterprise-wide minimum wage starting at $21 an hour, wage increases, and a continuation of health and retirement benefits among other things.
“These and our other operational proposals reflect our deep commitment to the economic well-being of our employees,” representatives continued.
At this time, it is unknown if any additional bargaining sessions have been scheduled between the union and Kaiser ahead of the Sept. 30 contract deadline.