Updated Sep 20, 2023 - News

4,500 Kaiser Permanente health care workers vote to strike in San Diego

Thousands of healthcare workers march down the street in Los Angeles with signs protesting staffing and wages.

Thousands of health care workers march in Los Angeles for better working conditions at Kaiser Permanente. Photo: Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Nearly 4,500 Kaiser Permanente health care workers in San Diego voted to authorize a strike if the coalition of unions they belong to can't reach a contract agreement by the end of September.

Driving the news: The vote, which was announced Wednesday, follows a string of other votes by nearly 70,000 union members in Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

  • The vote by San Diego members of the OPEIU Local 30 was one of the last to be completed before the coalition begins its final scheduled negotiations with Kaiser, which are set to end Friday.

Why it matters: Union leaders say this would be the largest strike of health care workers in U.S. history and impact Kaiser medical facilities throughout the country.

What's happening: The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions has criticized the health care giant for chronic understaffing that's led to long wait times for appointments and delays in patient care services.

What they're saying: It's "distressful and frustrating" that "we don't have the staffing that's required to give people the quality of care that they deserve and that they need," Michael Ramey, an ultrasound technician and president of the OPEIU Local 30, told Axios.

State of play: Management proposed cumulative wage increases of between 10% and 14% over the multi-year contract, and a $21 minimum wage across Kaiser facilities.

  • The coalition's proposal includes cumulative annual pay raises of around 26% in the four-year contract and a $25 per hour minimum wage.
  • The unions see higher pay as part of the solution to the staffing crisis by helping with retention and hiring.

Context: The coalition says it represents more than 85,000 health care workers, roughly 40% of the overall Kaiser Permanente workforce.

  • In San Diego, the union represents licensed vocational nurses, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, schedulers, housekeepers and others.

Zoom in: Local health care workers, including Kaiser Permanente employees, rallied in July and on Labor Day, demanding higher pay and better staffing across California medical facilities.

  • Meanwhile, Kaiser Permanente opened a new hospital in San Marcos in August.
  • Kaiser has said its local medical facilities "meet or exceed California state mandated nurse staffing ratios."

What they're saying: A Kaiser Permanente official told Axios in an emailed statement Wednesday that they are "confident" they'll reach an agreement before the current contract expires.

  • The strike authorizations were a "disappointing action considering their progress at the bargaining table," they said.
  • Kaiser called the unions criticisms "misleading," saying its wages "exceed market levels" in Southern California and the organization is aggressively recruiting to fill more positions.
  • They urged employees not to strike, but said they have plan to ensure patients' access to health care services if it happens this year.

What to watch: The contract expires Sept. 30 and the union must give Kaiser a 10-day notice to strike.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from a Kaiser Permanente official.

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