FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, September 14, 2023
Oakland, CA – Almost 60,000 healthcare workers who are part of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) announced on Thursday that they have voted to authorize a strike to protest unfair labor practices by a margin of 98% if no agreement is reached by September 30. This comes on the heels of a 99% yes vote to authorize a strike by SEIU members at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado last week. SEIU members at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon will also announce the results of their strike authorization vote today.
This could be the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history, as workers say Kaiser executives refuse to acknowledge the decline in patient service and care and negate the struggle of the workforce to keep up with the high cost of living in areas where Kaiser operates.
“For weeks, Kaiser sent us messages telling us to reject a strike. Their millionaire executives implied we were imagining the delays in care our patients are experiencing and ignored the fact that our families are struggling more and more to keep up with the rising cost of living. Instead, workers are rejecting short staffing and inadequate pay, and we will be going on strike if Kaiser doesn’t stop committing unfair labor practices,” said Miriam De La Paz, a Labor and Delivery Unit Secretary at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey, California.
Healthcare workers have been leaving the industry in droves with devastating consequences for patients. Caregivers say the day-to-day reality for many Kaiser patients is long wait times for appointments, and delays in receiving medications, X-rays, phone responses, room assignments, and other vital patient services.
Earlier this year, Kaiser announced to patients that it would increase premiums by as much as 15% without offering any details for improvements in care. Healthcare workers Kaiser is proposing to make the staffing crisis worse, not better with their proposals in negotiations including:
“Every one of these proposals from Kaiser will make staffing problems worse and continue to delay care to patients,” said Dave Regan, President of SEIU-UHW. “Kaiser has failed to bargain in good faith with the caregivers who are doing everything they can to protect patient safety. Nearly 60,000 frontline workers at Kaiser facilities have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike because we will simply not stand by as Kaiser violates the law and puts patients at risk.”
The SEIU-UHW workers comprise a majority of the more than 85,000 expected to vote to authorize the strike over unfair labor practices as part of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. Coalition unions in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have also voted to approve a strike, with voting by additional coalition members concluding on Wednesday, September 20.
Following the UPS labor settlement with the Teamsters, the labor negotiations covering 85,000 Kaiser healthcare workers have now become the largest single-employer labor negotiations occurring in the United States.
At issue, healthcare workers say, are a series of unfair labor practices related to bargaining in bad faith, along with simmering staff concerns related to unsafe staffing levels that can lead to dangerously long wait times, mistaken diagnosis, and neglect. After years of the COVID pandemic and chronic understaffing, Kaiser healthcare workers are calling on management to provide safe staffing levels.
The Kaiser healthcare workers are members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents more than 85,000 healthcare workers in seven states and the District of Columbia. In April, the Coalition began its national bargaining process ahead of their September 30th contract expiration. The Coalition and Kaiser Permanente last negotiated a contract in 2019, before healthcare workers found themselves on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic that has worsened working conditions and exacerbated a healthcare staffing crisis.
Tensions have been rising as the workers’ contract expiration looms. In July, tens of thousands of healthcare workers picketed Kaiser hospitals across the U.S. to protest the company’s growing care crisis.
Workers say that Kaiser is committing unfair labor practices and also that under-staffing is boosting Kaiser’s profits but hurting patients. In a recent survey of 33,000 employees, 2/3 of workers said they’d seen care delayed or denied due to short staffing. After three years of the COVID pandemic and chronic understaffing, healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente are calling on management to provide safe staffing levels.
Even as some frontline healthcare heroes live in their cars and patients wait longer for care, Kaiser released new financials this month indicating they made $3 billion in profit in just the first six months of this year.
Despite being a non-profit organization – which means it pays no income taxes on its earnings and extremely limited property taxes – Kaiser has reported more than $24 billion in profit over the last five years. Kaiser’s CEO was compensated more than $16 million in 2021, and forty-nine executives at Kaiser are compensated more than $1 million annually. Kaiser Permanente has investments of $113 billion in the US and abroad, including in fossil fuels, casinos, for-profit prisons, alcohol companies, military weapons and more.