Quantcast
Connect with us

Kaiser healthcare workers plan for nation’s largest strike since 1997

Published

on

More than 80,000 Kaiser Permanente emergency medical technicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other staffers are threatening to walk out of work next month, in what could be the nation’s largest strike since 1997.

The authorization to strike, approved by 98% of the union members who voted, does not mean a walk out will happen, but it does allow union leaders to call one as early as Oct. 1, giving them leverage ahead of negotiations with the California-based health care giant. Kaiser Permanente, comprised of 39 hospitals and nearly 700 medical officers, serves more than 12 million members in seven states across the country.

ADVERTISEMENT

The workers, represented by 300 unions, include most non-clinical staff, such as biomedical technicians, medical billers, transcriptionists, receptionists and janitors. If they carry out the move, it would be the largest strike since 1997, when 185,000 United Parcel Service workers walked off the job for 16 days.

Not all of the unions in the coalition have sanctioned a strike yet, but given outcomes elsewhere, the umbrella organization representing Kaiser Permanente workers in a host of unions in several states expects the move to gain support from coast to coast.

Three unions made up of 65,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have already voted to authorize a strike next month. Another four unions comprised of 15,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are expected to cast similar votes by Sept. 22. The employees are represented by more than 12 local affiliates of the Service Employees International Union, Office and Professional Employees International Union and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

The union members, who bargain together as the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, allege the non-profit health care giant has been outsourcing and automating union jobs, understaffing facilities, raising patient premiums, and is seeking to reduce worker wages and benefits in union contract negotiations — despite bringing in more than $11 billion in profits since January 2017, sitting on $38 billion in reserves and paying its CEO $16 million a year.

“I’ve been working there for over eight years. When I got hired there, it was the premiere place to work. But in the past few years, I’ve noticed that they’ve become really profit focused and that’s really affected the work environment,” Eric Jines, a radiologic technologist at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, told Salon. “The idea of affordable health care, which is in their mention statement, they haven’t been fulfilling it.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“We don’t want to strike. We’re hoping to avoid that,” Jines admitted. “Kaiser has the ability to stop it. Dealing with the idea of a strike is stressful. Dealing with the idea that our community and that our patients might suffer is stressful.”

Kaiser Permanente has argued the coalition’s demands are unfair to its members and the communities it serves.

In a statement last month, John Nelson, vice president of Kaiser Permanente, described the union’s threat of a strike as a “bargaining tactic, designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente’s position.”The company said employees are already compensated 23% above market rates.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Kaiser Permanente has proposed guaranteed wage increases of 3% across the board each year through 2022. It’s unclear what pay increase the coalition is seeking, but union members have stressed the issue extends beyond their concerns over reduced worker wages and benefits, citing worries over management’s future outsourcing of jobs.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions is also alleging the giant health system has departed from its mission and is focused more on enriching top executives than its workers and patients. They argue Kaiser Permanente serves few Medicaid recipients, far less than other non-profit health plans, even though it receives billions of dollars in tax breaks for serving the public interest.

ADVERTISEMENT

“My patients are suffering. They can’t see a doctor due to long wait times. They stopped taking in many Medicaid patients, they’ve been outsourcing our jobs, breaking down our partnership. It seems like they care more about profits than their patients,” Jeffrey Taylor, a medical assistant who has been working at Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Medical Center for 15 years, told Salon.

“When I started with Kaiser, we had good staffing. The partnership (between management and employees) was there. They came to labor management meetings prepared and we discussed our concerns. Right now, they’re making all of the decisions at up and it’s really affecting the patients and workers,” he added. “I want to make sure Kaiser comes back to the way they used to be. They lost their way. They need to come back and care about the community, care about the patients and care about their workers.”

The union workers who may go on strike have garnered support from a host of elected officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

ADVERTISEMENT

On Labor Day, Harris, a 2020 presidential candidate, and Waters rallied with more than 2,500 Kaiser Permanente workers and their allies at a protest in Los Angeles, where they decried alleged unfair labor practices and good paying jobs.

Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke are other presidential hopefuls who have expressed their solidarity with Kaiser Permanente workers.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Denver City Council, the Los Angeles Labor Federation and 90 faith leaders in California have also expressed support for the looming walk out.

As the threat of the strike looms, Kaiser Permanente is facing increased scrutiny. Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill requiring the health care behemoth to disclose its finances on a per-facility basis.

“This law arms employers and others with the information they need to fully understand why the cost of their health insurance with Kaiser Permanente may be rising,” said state Sen. Richard Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento and the measure’s author.

Ahead of the impending worker strike, management has agreed to sit down with the coalition for a bargaining session on Sept. 16, Sept. 23 and Sept. 24 to work out a new contract, a spokesperson for management told Salon. The last contract expired nearly a year ago. In December 2018, the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser Permanente with refusal to bargain in good faith.

ADVERTISEMENT

The last time Kaiser Permanente workers held a strike was in December 2018. At the time, thousands of psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric workers from more than 100 Kaiser Permanente facilities across California walked off the job for five days to demand management allocate more resources to mental health services.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump says he can ‘absolutely’ force governors to reopen churches if he decides to do so

Published

on

At Tuesday's coronavirus press briefing, President Donald Trump was pressed on whether he really has the authority to force governors to allow houses of worship to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. "Can you explain what authority you had in mind when you said that you would do that?" asked a reporter.

The president emphasized that he does have the power — but did not elaborate on how specifically he would do so, and added that he doesn't think he will have to.

"I can absolutely do it if I want to," said Trump. "I don't think I'm going to have to, because it's starting to open up. We need our churches and our synagogues and our mosques. We want them open, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other — we want them open and we want them open as soon as possible."

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump continues pushing conspiracy theories about Joe Scarborough — immediately after reporter tells him about widower begging him to stop

Published

on

At Tuesday's White House press briefing, President Donald Trump was asked by reporters if he was aware of the letter from the widower of deceased congressional aide Lori Klausutis, begging the president to stop promoting conspiracy theories that she had been murdered by former representative and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

The president replied, "Yeah I have." However, almost immediately after, he used the moment to continue pushing the conspiracy theory, adding, "As you know, there's no statute of limitations."

Asked if he's seen the distressed letter from the widower of Lori Klausutis about Trump turning her death into fodder, Trump says "yeah I have," then continues propagating his conspiracy nonsense, then says, "As you know, there's no statute of limitations."

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Trump tells a reporter to take off coronavirus mask and stop being ‘politically correct’

Published

on

At Tuesday's White House coronavirus press briefing, President Donald Trump got into an argument with Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason, when he commanded him to take off his protective face mask.

Mason refused to do so, at which point Trump mocked him, saying "You want to be politically correct."

Trump also repeated a line previously made by his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, asking why former Vice President Joe Biden wore a mask when he was in public but not standing close to anyone, when he wasn't wearing a mask at home with his wife right next to him.

Continue Reading
 
 
You need honest news coverage. Help us deliver it. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free.
close-image