Updated Oct 4, 2023 - Economy

Health care workers launch strike against Kaiser Permanente

Striking Kaiser Permanente workers march in front of the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center on Oct. 4. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Kaiser Permanente workers at hospitals and medical office buildings around the country began a strike on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: The work stoppage covers an estimated 75,000 employees at the nation's biggest nonprofit health care system. It is expected to be the largest health care strike in U.S. history, according to a coalition of unions leading it.

  • The strike includes workers in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
  • Nurses, radiologists, X-ray technicians, ultrasound sonographers and others are expected to join the picket lines.

Details: The unions' contract with Kaiser expired on Sept. 30.

  • Staffing shortages are a major sticking point. They have led to what workers say are unsafe conditions and negatively affected patient care, Caroline Lucas, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, told CNBC.

What we're watching: Kaiser spokesperson Hilary Costa said in an emailed statement Wednesday evening that Kaiser had reached several tentative agreements in bargaining that it believes addresses the unions' priorities. These include:

  • Across-the-board wage increases in all markets over the next four years.
  • Updating the Performance Sharing Plan to include a minimum payout opportunity and potential for up to a $3,750 payout.
  • Offering minimum wages of $23/hour in California and $21/hour in markets outside of California.
  • Continuing and enhancing existing health benefits and retirement income plans.
  • Renewing tuition assistance and training programs, and increasing funding of the education trusts.

What they're saying: Kaiser and union representatives "worked through the night" and made progress in negotiations late Tuesday, Costa told Axios earlier on Wednesday.

  • "We remain committed to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages, excellent benefits, generous retirement income plans, and valuable professional development opportunities," Costa said in the statement.
  • Union representatives did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on Kaiser's later statement.

Meanwhile, Lucas said in an emailed statement late Wednesday: "Frontline healthcare workers are awaiting a meaningful response from Kaiser executives regarding some of our key priorities including safe staffing, outsourcing protections for incumbent healthcare workers, and fair wages to reduce turnover.

  • "Healthcare workers within the coalition remain ready to meet at any time. Currently, the strike continues, and there are no sessions scheduled at this hour."

The big picture: The health care workers strike is the latest in what has been a busy year for organized labor and worker activism.

  • Hollywood writers returned to work after a 148-day work stoppage that ended with a new labor deal in late September. Actors are still striking.
  • The United Auto Workers began a historic strike last month against Ford, GM and Stellantis, over wages, benefits and worker protections.

Go deeper: The largest health care strike in U.S. history could begin this week

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout and includes corrected figures from Kaiser that it offers a minimum hourly wage of $23 in California (not $25) and $21 in other markets (not $23).

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