Kaiser union employees engage in sympathy strike in support of local engineers

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Thousands of Kaiser Permanente health care workers across Northern California took to the picket lines Thursday to show solidarity for local engineers.

Kaiser union employees held what they call a sympathy strike to picket in support of the engineers who have been on strike for over 60 days.

“My message today is that we are standing strong with our brothers and sisters of Local 39,” explained Kaiser Permanente medical assistant Kim Samuel. “Kaiser is treating them bad. When we see someone treating our brothers and sisters being bad, we stand up for them.”

This comes after more than 20 unions reached a tentative deal with Kaiser Permanente Saturday, averting a strike involving about 50,000 west coast employees, including vocational nurses, pharmacy workers and housekeepers.

But the health care giant has not yet reached a deal with the Northern California-based International Union of Operating Engineers, Stationary Engineers Local 39, representing about 700 or so Northern California Kaiser Permanente engineers.

“We want a fair contract, and we want it now. And we want them to get us those contracts starting today,” Kaiser optician Sonia Askew told FOX40. “Our Local 39 engineers are the ones who maintained this hospital. Because of COVID, they were the ones who took this oxygen. When we had COVID patients who need oxygen, they brought it to the hospital when the truck had to be delivered.”

The engineers, who have been on strike for more than 60 days, and their colleagues at the hospital joined together to send a clear message.

“We’re looking for a fair contract that inputs our contribution to this facility and all of Kaiser actually,” explained Randy Newell, a Kaiser Permanente assistant chief engineer.

Kaiser Permanente says the union’s demands are unreasonable.  

In a video released Thursday, Michelle Gaskill-Hames, the Northern California senior vice president of hospital and health plan operations, assured the public that Kaiser Permanente hospitals remain fully functioning.

Gaskill-Hames also shared where the company stands in labor negotiations.

“We are bargaining with some unions and have proposed no takeaways and annual increases which will keep our valued staff among the highest paid in the country,” Gaskill-Hames said.

Despite the differences, both sides say they are negotiating in good faith, and organizers say they hope this rally will change the course of negotiations.

Kaiser Permanente engineers told FOX40 Thursday they hope the support from hundreds of their colleagues will get both sides to come to a deal. 

“We’re prepared to stay here as long as we can until we get a contract,” Newell said. 

The strike is expected to continue Friday, and some outpatient pharmacies will be temporarily closed Thursday and Friday. 

Anyone needing to refill prescriptions is urged to contact Kaiser Permanente about where to pick up medications.

A partial statement from Kaiser can be read below.

We are extremely grateful for all our frontline health care workforce, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring. We recently reached successful agreements with dozens of unions that represent more than 60,000 Kaiser Permanente employees that demonstrate our commitment to providing excellent wages and benefits for all employees while meeting our commitment to delivering high-quality, affordable care for our members and patients. These are market-leading contracts, reached through constructive and reasonable bargaining.

Bargaining with Local 39 IUOE

Kaiser Permanente has been bargaining in good faith with Local 39 IUOE, the union that represents about 600 Kaiser Permanente operating engineers, for several months. The union decided to call a strike and have kept employees out for more than two months. We are offering Local 39 employees wages that are similar to our other employees’ and that, on top of Local 39’s generous medical and the richest retirement benefits, will keep our engineers among the best compensated in their profession, at an average of more than $180,000 in total wages and benefits. We are not proposing any take-aways and our proposals do not differentiate between current and future employees. But union leadership wants more, asking for unreasonable increases far beyond any other union at Kaiser Permanente.

We are optimistic that we can resolve the remaining issues with Local 39 at the bargaining table and reach an agreement that continues to reward our employees and supports health care affordability, just as we have with several unions this week.

We have taken steps to ensure that our members and patients will continue to receive high-quality, safe care and service should these strikes occur. …

We are very sorry for any disruption members may experience as we take steps to ensure that we continue to provide high-quality, safe care during this union strike. 

Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States.

Kaiser Permanente

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