More than 80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers will hold a weeklong nationwide strike beginning Oct. 14, in response to what the group characterized as Kaiser’s unfair labor practices. More than 6,600 workers are expected to be impacted in Oregon and Washington.
The strike is being organized by a group called the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. The coalition includes the Oregon and Southwest Washington branch of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU Local 49, which represents about 4,500 Kaiser workers.
Union members will set up picket lines at Kaiser hospitals and offices in Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The strike will end on the morning of Oct. 21.
In a Monday press release, the coalition billed the strike as the largest seen in the United States since 1997, when the Teamsters union held a strike against package carrier UPS.
The strike will affect workers in a large number of jobs, according to the union, including optometrists, X-ray technicians, nurses, pharmacy technicians, phlebotomists, housekeepers and “hundreds of other positions.”
“Today we had negotiations with Kaiser Permanente, and it’s clear to us that our members need to take a stand for our priorities,” said Meg Niemi, president of SEIU Local 49.
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The coalition workers’ national contract expired Sept. 30, 2018. Preparations for a potential strike began after negotiations for a new contract broke down in early July, according to a prior press release from the coalition. The various unions and local chapters in the coalition all held strike authorization votes over the past two months.
SEIU Local 49 held votes in late July and throughout August, along with a series of picket events at Kaiser facilities in Vancouver and Portland. The Oregon and Washington workers voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of authorizing a possible strike, according to a press release put out by the union in late August. Voting continued into September in Colorado.
The coalition has sought to cast Kaiser as a nonprofit company that has lost sight of its mission, criticizing the company for what it characterizes as a lack of pricing transparency and disproportionately high pay for its executives.
The union’s Monday press release outlined four goals for a new contract: “Restore a true worker-management partnership; ensure safe staffing and compassionate use of technology; build the workforce of the future to deal with major projected shortages of licensed and accredited staff in the coming years; and protect middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families.”
The decision to commit to holding the strike was made following a bargaining session on Monday in which all of the coalition members were represented, according to union spokesman Sean Wherley. Two more rounds of negotiations are planned for Sept. 23 and 24. Wherley said the strike will happen unless Kaiser responds to the coalition’s demands.
Kaiser officials did not immediately issue a statement in response to the coalition’s strike announcement on Monday, although the company has previously issued a number of statements during the coalition voting process. Those statements pushed back on the coalition’s claims, arguing that Kaiser’s contract offer was being misrepresented and that the coalition was seeking a better deal for its own members relative to Kaiser workers in non-coalition unions. In particular, Kaiser repeatedly stressed that its offer included annual pay increases.