Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers in California plan to strike

The union representing thousands of Kaiser Permanente health care workers in southern California is planning to begin an open-ended strike Nov. 15 over what leaders say is a proposed wage cut for new and existing workers.

The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) sent a 10-day strike notice Thursday to Kaiser Permanente executives, notifying the company as many as 28,400 unionized nurses, therapists, physician assistants and other health care workers are planning to strike if an agreement is not reached.

An additional 3,400 members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals and members of United Steel Workers Local 7600 filed the strike notice alongside the nursing union and are planning to strike the same day.

The walk out could affect 366 facilities in southern California, including hospitals, medical centers and hundreds of clinics, according to a news release from the union.

“The whole reason I’m going on strike is because of my patients,” Kim Mullen, a registered nurse from Kaiser South Bay, said in a statement. “I believe my patients deserve the best care and attracting the best nurses is what’s best for them, and I need to make sure that we continue to attract the best nurses who want to stay at Kaiser in order for my patients to get the best care.”

The thousands of workers poised to strike are pushing back on a proposal from Kaiser that seeks to implement a two-tier wage structure where new workers would be paid on a lower wage scale than current employees to cut costs. For existing employees, the company has proposed a 2% wage increase and an additional lump sum payment.

The union is calling for a 4% wage increase per year across the board and emphatically disagrees with the two-tier system over fears it will hinder the company from attracting and retaining qualified new hires.

For weeks, we’ve been beating back a two-tier wage package which would impact our ability to hire, recruit and retain during a severe shortage of nurses, health care workers and professionals – wage proposals that resemble those of a slash-and-burn corporation, not the leading health care provider that our members helped build,” UNAC/UHCP President Denise Duncan said in a statement.

For health care providers, a strike is always a last resort, but it’s clear from the employer’s latest proposals that this is the path they’ve chosen. Nurses and health care professionals have one priority: delivering the best possible care to our patients. Kaiser’s actions are destructive to that priority. These next few weeks will define us.”

In response to the strike notice, Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice President of Human Resources Arlene Peasnall said in a statement the organization has been meeting with the union regularly since September and believes an “agreement that meets the interests of all is very possible.”

The company said union-represented workers earn 26% above the average market wage, and, in some places, they earn 38% higher. According to a statement, Kaiser executives presented a proposal Tuesday that provides union-represented workers as much as 4% a year in pay increases, though union representatives said the increased wages come in exchange for a 15% cut to the wages and benefits of future members.

If the strike occurs, the organization said it will be prepared to bring in contingency staff as needed to continue to provide care for patients.

Our proposal simply aims to slow the significant over-market growth in compensation while continuing to reward our employees and fulfill our commitment to our members and patients to provide high-quality, affordable health care,” Peasnall said in a statement. “We remain committed to working together with labor for the benefit of our workforce, members and the communities that rely on us.”

The last time UNAC/UHCP organized a strike against Kaiser was 1980, according to a news release from the union. The union authorized a strike in 1995, but settled a contract before striking.

If a deal is not reached, the Nov. 15 strike is poised to be the largest work stoppage this year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This article was originally posted on Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers in California plan to strike

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