Unions Announce Nationwide Kaiser Permanente Strike

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A coalition of unions representing 80,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon, five other states and Washington D.C., announced on Monday it will go on strike Oct. 14.

The seven-day walkout would be the biggest since the Teamsters union effectively shut down United Parcel Service in 1997. It’s unclear what impact the Kaiser Permanente strike would have. The unions represent a range of job categories from certified nursing assistants to various technicians to housekeepers. 

“We believe the only way to ensure our patients get the best care is to take this step,” Eric Jines, a radiologic technologist at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles said in a news release. “Our goal is to get Kaiser to stop committing unfair labor practices and get back on track as the best place to work and get care. There is no reason for Kaiser to let a strike happen when it has the resources to invest in patients, communities and workers.”

Kaiser Permanente responded to the announcement with a statement that accused the unions of making “an overt effort to gain leverage in bargaining” while the two were at the table.

“This has been an ongoing pattern during this entire process with (the union), as they believe that an aggressive approach such as using negative corporate campaigning and threats of a strike is the way to get a better offer than what our other unions have received,” the statement said.

“I hope we will not have a strike on October 14, and we are preparing to deal with all scenarios to make sure our members are cared for,” said Bernard Tyson, Kaiser Permanente chairman and CEO.

The unions and management have been negotiating since April.

The union said it has balked at a proposal to cut pay for new workers and is concerned that the company has shifted its focus from providing high-quality care to beefing up its bottom line.

Kaiser said it is committed to "offering a package that’s aligned with all of our other unions that keeps our employees among the best paid in wages and benefits in the industry. We are committed to our workforce who delivers on our mission every day and to our members’ demand for greater affordability of care and coverage from Kaiser Permanente.”

About 4,500 Kaiser Permanente employees in Oregon and Southwest Washington are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 49, which is one of the unions in the coalition. Locally, a large majority endorsed a walkout in voting in August. Members in Washington, California, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. have also widely backed a strike.

The union said in a news release that members will picket Kaiser Permanente hospitals, medical office buildings and other facilities. Kaiser has two hospitals in the Portland area -- Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas and Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro -- along with clinics and other facilities.

Workers say they’re concerned that the “partnership” they’ve had with Kaiser Permanente management has eroded and that the nonprofit is more focused on its bottom line. A Lund Report analysis shows that the company had net incomes of $3.8 billion in 2017 and 2.5 billion in 2018. This year it’s off to an even faster start, reporting $5.2 billion in net income in the first six months of 2019.

The union statement blasted Kaiser for “enriching top executives” like Tyson who’s paid $16 million a year, raising health plan premiums and it accused the company of “underserving low-income patients” and “destroying good jobs.”

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].

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