Largest Healthcare Worker Strike in US History Set to Kick Off on Oct. 4
"We're burning ourselves out trying to do the jobs of two or three people, and our patients suffer when they can't get the care they need due to Kaiser's short-staffing," said one Kaiser Permanente worker.
By Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
In what's expected to be the largest-ever U.S. healthcare worker strike, more than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente employees in six states and Washington, D.C. are set to stop working for three days starting Wednesday to protest what they say are unfair working conditions and unsafe staffing levels at hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the country.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions—which represents 85,000 KP workers in eight unions—began its national bargaining process in April in anticipation of worker contracts expiring at the end of September. Union members are seeking across-the-board raises of between 5.75%-6.5%; KP is offering 3%. Additionally, workers want protections against subcontracting and outsourcing, better performance-sharing bonuses, an improved retiree medical plan, and unionization rights for employees of nonunion entities acquired by the KP.
In a 2022 survey of 33,000 KP employees, two-thirds of respondents said they've seen patient care delayed or denied due to short staffing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Kaiser executives are refusing to listen to us and are bargaining in bad faith over the solutions we need to end the Kaiser short-staffing crisis," said Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center. "I see my patients' frustrations when I have to rush them and hurry on to my next patient."
"That's not the care I want to give," Cruz added. "We're burning ourselves out trying to do the jobs of two or three people, and our patients suffer when they can't get the care they need due to Kaiser's short-staffing."
Based in Oakland, California, KP—which operates 39 hospitals and more than 700 medical offices staffed by over 300,000 workers and serving nearly 13 million patients—is the nation's largest nonprofit healthcare provider.
According to a statement from the coalition:
Kaiser has reported $3 billion in profits in just the first six months of this year. Despite being a nonprofit organization—which means it pays no income taxes on its earnings and extremely limited property taxes—Kaiser has reported more than $24 billion in profit over the last five years. Kaiser's CEO was compensated more than $16 million in 2021, and 49 executives at Kaiser are compensated more than $1 million annually. Kaiser Permanente has investments of $113 billion in the U.S. and abroad, including in fossil fuels, casinos, for-profit prisons, alcohol companies, military weapons, and more.
Workers in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. will take part in the strike.
KP communications manager Hilary Costa told Healthcare Dive Monday that "the best place to reach an agreement is at the bargaining table. We will ask our employees to reject any call to walk away from their jobs."
However, 30-year KP employee Maria Jostes told the outlet that while "there used to be this real collaborative problem-solving approach," over the past five or six years there's been "a culture shift from folks at the very top."
The imminent Kaiser strike comes amid a surge in U.S. labor organizing and action, including the expanding United Auto Workers strike and the Hollywood writers' strike, which ended last week with union members now voting on a tentative three-year contract.
Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
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