Sep 22, 2023 - News

Kaiser Permanente strike looms in San Francisco Bay Area

Kaiser Permanente in Mission Bay in San Francisco. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

A group of 2,500 Bay Area Kaiser Permanente health care workers voted this week voted to authorize a strike amid ongoing concerns about short staffing and unfair labor practices.

Driving the news: The workers, part of OPEIU Local 29, are prepared to strike if the coalition of unions they belong to can't reach a contract agreement by the end of this month.

  • The vote, which was announced Wednesday, comes amid a string of other votes by nearly 70,000 union members in Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

Why it matters: Union leaders say this would be the largest strike of health care workers in U.S. history and would 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 waits for appointments and delays in patient care services.

  • Union leaders are fighting for higher annual pay raises, arguing their wages have not kept up with the rising cost of living and inflation.
  • Arlene Peasnall, a Kaiser Permanente executive, told Axios via email that the company is offering "across-the-board wage increases" and is continuing to offer "excellent health benefits"and retirement plans.

What they're saying: "Over the last few years, the staffing crisis has made it so that our patients can't get the adequate care that they need, or there's a delay in getting them treatment just because there's not enough staff to handle them," Christie Dubeck, a Bay Area-based pharmacy technician, told Axios.

  • Dubeck, who has worked at Kaiser for over three decades, said no one wants a strike to happen "but we need the organization to stand behind us and give us what we need to do the job appropriately."

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.

  • Kaiser Permanente has a number of locations in the Bay Area, including hospitals in San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, and San Mateo.

The other side: Kaiser leaders are "confident" they'll reach an agreement before the current contract expires, Peasnall said.

  • The strike authorizations were a "disappointing action considering their progress at the bargaining table," they said.
  • They urged employees not to strike, but said they have a 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.

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