Kaiser Permanente workers plan a go-slow

USA – Roughly 32,000 Kaiser Permanente employees say they are prepared to walk off the job on Nov. 15 unless negotiations with the workers’ union representatives “improve,” according to a strike notice issued by the unions.

Workers are planning a walkout over pay and working conditions that have been strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Alliance of Health Care Unions, the tens of thousands of workers are from three member unions in California, Oregon, and Washington, and another 8,000 members may strike in the near future.

Kaiser, one of the United States largest health-care providers, has proposed a two-tiered wage and benefit system that would provide lower pay and fewer health-care benefits to newer employees.

Kaiser has proposed a 1% annual raise with additional lump sums, claiming that in order to remain competitive, labor costs must be reduced.

Kaiser’s unions want the organization to drop the plan. They also want 4% raises for the next three years, as well as a commitment to hire more nurses to alleviate staffing shortages.

The dispute is being fueled by a new round of contract negotiations, with the unions alleging that Kaiser Permanente’s offers include insufficient pay raises that do not address short staffing issues that will harm the organization in the coming years.

Talks between Kaiser and the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) stalled again after Kaiser Permanente delivered an updated proposal that the union described as “something of a Trojan horse maneuver to push through its two-tier wage proposal, poorly camouflaged by subpar wage increases and bonuses.

In response to the strike notice, Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser, issued a statement explaining the company’s stance.

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

Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor. Labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to provide more people with access to high-quality care and to make care more affordable,” she said.

A strike may still be avoided if the parties reach an agreement before November 15.

UNAC/UHCP, which represents approximately 21,000 of the soon-to-strike workers, said that this will be the first time its members have walked off the job since 1980, “before many of its current members were born.”

Kaiser says it hopes to reach an agreement to avoid a strike, but that if one does occur, physicians and managers will be available to care for patients.

Kaiser Permanente believes it can find an agreement that meets its shared interests and avoids an unnecessary and harmful strike.  

However, the system is prepared to “continue care with contingency staff if common ground can’t be reached,” Peasnall said.

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