Up to 85,000 workers could hit the picket lines, union says
More than 64,000 Kaiser Permanente employees have voted to authorize a strike if the unions and system can’t agree on a new contract by Sept. 30, when the current pact expires.
The SEIU-United Health care Workers West, which represents most of those workers, says it could be the largest health care workers’ strike in U.S. history.
And the number could grow. Other members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions are still voting on authorizing a strike, and the results are expected in the coming days. As many as 85,000 workers could decide to strike.
Union workers, who include nurses and other health care workers, say they are pushing for better salaries and staffing conditions. Kaiser Permanente contends it is making competitive offers to the unions.
Here’s a more detailed look at the situation.
Ready to walk
The SEIU-United Health care Workers West, based in California, said last week that 98% of its members voted to walk out if they don’t have a deal by the end of the month. SEIU-UHW represents nearly 60,000 workers.
SEIU members at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado last week also authorized a strike. Kaiser Permanente union workers in Oregon and Washington have also authorized a strike of up to two weeks if there’s not a deal by Sept. 30.
While other union coalition members will continue voting this week, the unions say that with three-quarters of the coalition already willing to strike, it should send a strong message about where workers stand.
Kaiser Permanente says the system is confident it can reach a deal before the national agreement ends on Sept. 30.
The health system says it is offering across-the-board wage hikes, including a starting minimum wage of $21 an hour, along with strong health and retirement benefits.
Kaiser Permanente says it is offering raises of 10%-14% over the next four years. The increases vary by market. The system is offering additional lump sum payments in California.
“Our priority is to reach an agreement that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits,” Kaiser Permanente says.
What unions want
The unions say that Kaiser Permanente’s pay offers are inadequate, especially in some areas where the cost of living is high. The SEIU-UHW says the system’s offers don’t beat the pay some could earn in retail or fast-food in some urban areas.
The unions are seeking a four-year pact with raises of 7% in the first two years and 6.25% in the final two years, USA Today reported.
The two sides are also at odds over bonuses.
The unions say their concerns go beyond compensation. Unions say Kaiser Permanente needs to commit to recruiting and retaining workers to fill key health care positions. The unions say staffing shortages are leading to longer waits and service delays for patients.
Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, said in a statement that Kaiser’s not addressing the concerns of unions when it comes to staffing.
“Every one of these proposals from Kaiser will make staffing problems worse and continue to delay care to patients,” Regan said in a statement. “Kaiser has failed to bargain in good faith with the caregivers who are doing everything they can to protect patient safety.”
Kaiser Permanente says it’s committed to workforce development. The system says it has provided more than $75 million in funding to education trusts in 2022, and more than $30 million in tuition reimbursement last year as well.
Kaiser Permanente notes that talks are scheduled to continue this week. The SEIU-UHW says if they don't have a deal in place at the end of the week, they will announce a strike date. Kaiser Permanente says it has “comprehensive plans” to provide health care services, even if the unions do strike.
A host of high-profile battles between health systems and labor unions have taken place over the past year.
About 1,800 nurses at two Providence hospitals in Oregon walked off the job earlier this summer. The nurses and hospitals reached a deal in August.
In January, thousands of nurses in New York went on strike before coming to an agreement on a contract. About 15,000 Minnesota nurses took part in a three-day strike in September 2022, and they threatened a second walkout in December, but labor and management reached a deal.
About the system
Based in Oakland, Calif., Kaiser Permanente operates 39 hospitals and more than 600 other medical offices in several states. The organization employs more than 200,000 workers.
Earlier this year, Kaiser announced plans to acquire Geisinger Health as the first member of a new organization called Risant Health, and future plans call for acquiring other regional hospitals or systems in the coming years.