The clock is ticking for healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente. Nearly 80,000 employees are poised to strike on October 14 if the union and hospital system can’t agree on a contract.
Kaiser Permanente, founded in the late 1930s to serve employees of the Kaiser Industrial companies and opened up to the public in 1945, has locations on the west coast (California, Washington, and Oregon), the mid-atlantic (Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C.), Georgia, Colorado, and Hawaii.
Most of Kaiser Permanente’s 218,000 non-clinical employees are represented by one of 300 unions contracted with the business. Of those, 65,000 represented by three different unions have already voted by overwhelming majority to authorize a strike in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Another 15,000 (represented by another four unions in California, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C.) are set to take a similar vote on September 22.
A walkout could begin on October 14, according to the Los Angeles Times. If that happens, it will be the largest strike since 185,000 Teamsters walked out on UPS in 1997.
Representatives for the union have accused Kaiser Permanente executives of lining their pockets while understaffing the system’s 39 hospitals. Employees also assert that the heathcare company seeks to reduce both pay and benefits in the latest round of negotiations.
Kaiser Permanente rebutted the claim, with a proposal for fixed wage increases of 3% each year through 2022. Vice president John Nelson also claims the system’s compensation structure is 23% above market rate.
Compensation is only one of the issues on which the two sides can’t come to terms. Unions are also unhappy with Kaiser Permanente’s shift toward automation and outsourcing.
Management isn’t budging yet. Kaiser Permanente believes a strike threat is merely a bargaining tactic, especially since the two sides are scheduled to be back at the negotiating table for a number of days before October 14. If a strike is avoided, it will be the second such bullet dodged by the healthcare system. Kaiser Permanente narrowly avoided a National Union of Healthcare Workers walkout in July.
Regardless of how this ends up, public opinion isn’t on management’s side. A number of elected officials have come out in support of the unions, including democratic presidential candidates Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Representative Beto O’Rourke.