Kaiser Permanente workers give union OK to strike

Members of two labor unions representing more than 24,400 Kaiser Permanente employees in southern California and Oregon have voted to allow their bargaining teams to call a strike, if needed.

The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals’ and the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals’ votes comes after the unions’ contracts with the integrated health system expired at the end of September. At both unions, 96% were in favor of authorizing strikes. The labor groups announced the voting results Monday.

The Oakland-based not-for-profit integrated system offered a 1% across-the-board raise for union workers and a two-tiered pay scale that would reduce compensation for new hires compared to current employees starting in 2023, which the unions oppose. The company’s proposal includes wage increases for all current employees, no changes to the retirement plan and guarantees no wage cuts for existing workers, the company said.

Kaiser Permanente is preparing for possible strikes, the company said Monday. “Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff,” the company said in a statement.

Strikes will not happen immediately, even if the bargaining teams call one. Under federal labor law, healthcare unions are required to give employers a 10-day notice before striking.

“Our members turned out in record numbers to say that they are willing to do what it takes to save patient care in Oregon,” Jodi Barschow, president of the Oregon union and a registered nurse at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas, said in a news release. “Kaiser’s proposals would be a disaster for Oregon’s entire care system and show a profound disrespect for the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives during COVID.”

The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals represents 21,000 registered nurses, pharmacists, rehabilitation therapists, midwives and optometrists in southern California, and Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals represents 3,400 healthcare workers in Oregon.

A labor action would affect operations at numerous Kaiser Permanente locations in southern California and Oregon, the unions said.

The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals and Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals are among the 21 labor groups that compose the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which represents 52,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in several states. Other unions within the alliance, including a United Steelworkers local representing 7,400 health care workers in southern California, also have been voting to authorize strikes.

Last month, the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals announced it was pausing participation in Kaiser Permanente’s labor-management partnership, a 24-year-old agreement between the health system and its unions to jointly make decisions about patient care, access and quality, in protest over the contract talks.

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