Support from Elected Officials, Clergy, Labor Unions Continues to Grow for 80,000 Kaiser Workers

Support from Elected Officials, Clergy, Labor Unions Continues to Grow for 80,000 Kaiser Workers

[Sept. 10, 2019] OAKLAND, Calif. Support from elected officials, clergy and labor unions for a looming unfair labor practices strike affecting more than 80,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente continues growing across the country, with recent announcements from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, the Denver City Council, the Los Angeles Labor Federation and 90 faith leaders in California, who called Kaiser’s actions a “moral failing.”

During an Aug. 29 meeting with healthcare workers in San Francisco, Pelosi expressed surprise to learn the size of the planned strike over Kaiser’s failure to bargain in good faith, after Kaiser officials earlier told her it affected only “one small union.” She later posed for a photo with Kaiser caregivers while holding a sign that read: “I stand with Kaiser workers.”

On Labor Day, Harris and Waters both spoke before more than 2,500 Kaiser Permanente workers, family members and allies at a protest in Los Angeles. Workers marched and engaged in civil disobedience to raise awareness about the corporation drifting from its community-oriented mission. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have also tweeted support for Kaiser workers

Nearly 135 elected leaders in California support Kaiser Permanente workers, including 16 U.S. Representatives; 22 State Senators; and 48 State Assemblymembers. They have tweeted, attended rallies or contacted Kaiser executives on workers’ behalf.

Ninety clergy in California recently wrote to Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson imploring him to change course. “When you outsource these jobs, you are outsourcing families from their way of life,” read the letter. “When you raise premiums for patients, you are raising the level of hardship everyday families undergo. As clergy, we see this change as not only a threat to the stability of the families and communities in our care, but as a moral failing on the part of Kaiser’s leadership.”

More than 12 regional labor groups in California have sanctioned the Kaiser strike, most recently the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which encompasses 300 unions and 800,000 workers, on Sept. 10. As part of their support, individual union members will be asked not to cross the strike line as part of their usual job duties. Another eight regional labor groups are expected to take similar action in the coming weeks.

While two unions representing 62,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California, Oregon and Washington have voted to authorize a strike, another five unions representing an additional 18,000 Kaiser employees in Colorado, California, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are expected to finish similar votes by Sept. 22. The strike would be the nation’s largest since the Teamsters’ walkout at United Parcel Service in 1997.

Workers want Kaiser Permanente to bargain in good faith and stop committing unfair labor practices, and are fighting for a new contract that would:

  1. Restore a true worker-management partnership, and have Kaiser bargain in good faith;
  2. Ensure safe staffing and compassionate use of technology;
  3. Build the workforce of the future to deal with major projected shortages of licensed and accredited staff in the coming years; and
  4. Protect middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families.

As a non-profit entity, Kaiser Permanente is supposed to serve the public interest in exchange for billions of dollars in tax breaks. But in recent years, the corporation has departed from its mission:

  • Profits: Kaiser made more than $5.2 billion in profits during the first half of 2019, bringing its profits to more than $11 billion since Jan. 1, 2017. The company also sits on $37 billion in reserves.
  • Executive pay: Kaiser gave its CEO a $6 million raise to $16 million a year and pays at least 36 executives a million dollars or more a year.
  • Care for low-income patients: Kaiser provides very little care to Medicaid patients, far less than other non-profit health systems, even though it gets massive tax breaks in exchange for supposedly working in the public interest.
  • Financial transparency: Kaiser lacks transparency and operates in the shadows. It is exempt from many of the financial reporting requirements of other hospitals and health systems. Operating secretly allows Kaiser to avoid the kind of scrutiny consumers, employers, unions and regulators need to protect themselves and the public. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed into law SB 343, which would hold Kaiser to the same transparency standards.
  • Turning its back on workers: Kaiser has worked to destroy what had been the most successful and largest worker-management partnership in the country that was a source of innovation and problem-solving for many years; it has committed numerous unfair labor practices, including refusing to bargain in good faith.
  • Destroying good jobs. Kaiser is actively destroying good jobs by outsourcing them to companies that pay low wages with few benefits, and wants to limit the wages and cut the benefits of its frontline healthcare employees.

The workers’ national contract expired Sept. 30, 2018, and in December 2018 the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser Permanente with failing to bargain in good faith. Since then, Kaiser has continued to commit unfair labor practices.