Kaiser Permanente Nurses Prepare to Strike Nationwide
Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest not-for-profit health plans and the largest healthcare employer in California, is facing potential strikes from over 52,000 workers in 8 different states. The system has 39 hospitals ranging from California to D.C., employs over 63,847 nurses and 216,738 other employees, and reported operating revenue of $88.7 billion in 2020.
The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP), which represents over 32,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals, is preparing for a strike authorization vote after failing to reach an agreement with Kaiser Permanente at several California and Oregon hospitals. On their website, the UNAC/UHCP explained that the critical vote is necessary because “everything we've fought for and won in the past 50 years is at stake.”
The UNAC/UHCP has an entire section of their site set up as an Online Strike Vote HQ, where nurses can read Kaiser’s proposals, attend virtual meetings, and even cast their votes online. According to the site, the union is representing the 24,000 RNs that work at Kaiser and is fighting for issues that include:
- Addressing chronic understaffing and burnout
- Improving wages--4% each over the next 3 years
- Preserving benefits
- Protecting patient standards of care and access
- Social justice program that includes recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday
- Stopping cost-cutting without accountability
According to 10News.com, the current contract between Kaiser and the California Nurses Union will expire today, October 7, at midnight. Nurses have until October 10th to cast their strike authorization vote; after that, if enough nurses vote in support, the strike will go into effect. Voting is entirely virtual and if a strike authorization is voted through, the union has to give a 10-day notice to the hospital before the strike begins.
Oregon Prepared to Strike
In Oregon, nurses and other healthcare workers at three different Kaiser locations in the state have been voting on a strike authorization since Monday, October 4th. Kaiser’s contract with the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals union expired on September 30th and members have been working on a contract since then.
According to the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), one of the main concerns that the union has been discussing with Kaiser is the health system’s proposal for a 2-tiered wage system, which would mean that new hire healthcare workers would sign on with lower wages and a decreased benefit package. They also accused Kaiser of releasing “misleading” statements surrounding contract negotiations and current employee wages.
“Kaiser claims that we are paid above market rate, but this is absolutely false,” a statement from Jodi Barschow, a Kaiser Sunnyside RN and President of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP) read on the OFNHP website. “Kaiser’s proposals are an attack on patient care and the frontline healthcare workers who provide it, and all the while they are spreading untruths about how much we make and how they have handled negotiations. Lower wages will make it impossible to recruit and retain the healthcare professionals our patients depend on for care. We have a staffing crisis now; what do you think would happen if we allowed Kaiser to offer even less pay to prospective employees? It would create a healthcare disaster.”
The union also claims that Kaiser has been unwilling to negotiate after strike authorization voting began and has even walked back on previously agreed upon proposals.
If the Oregon union authorizes the strike, it would be one of the largest healthcare strikes in the state’s history, involving some 3,400 workers.
So why exactly are Kaiser nurses striking?
According to the union’s statements as well as nurses that have worked in the facilities who are sharing their stories, the healthcare giant is prioritizing profits over patient safety and is endangering both employee and patient’s health and well-being.
“KP continues its narrative of competitors threatening to overtake a health care giant with pop-up clinics and expanding virtual care. The reality is that the employer emerged from the pandemic with at least $44 billion in cash reserves and a healthier outlook than many health care systems,” the UNAC/UHCP union states on its site. “The real threat is that a new crop of KP leaders has redefined the organization's legacy of partnership, justice, and equity.”
The site also lists some pretty damning statistics about where KP is sitting financially as its staff members struggle, such as the fact that KP earned $6 million per day during the pandemic, holds $44 billion in reserves (yes, you read that right--billions!), and would fall as the 34th wealthiest company on the Fortune 500 list, above even Disney and Nike. Kaiser isn’t on the list because they are technically classified as a non-profit, which excludes them from the list.
“We're not asking for anything outrageous, we're just trying to be fair and they've taken the stance they want more profits, so this is where we're going,” Rob Jones, an RN at a Kaiser’s San Diego County location, told a local news outlet.
Oregon’s nursing union also cited statistics that 42.2% of healthcare workers are considering leaving the field entirely over the treatment they have received at Kaiser, while over 60% reported they are considering leaving Kaiser Permanente.
Nurses Speak Out on Striking
Nurses have also been taking to social media to share some of the information about strikes that are going on around the country. One nurse in a video shared by Nurse Erica on Instagram, even explained that October has been dubbed “Striketober” in light of so many nursing unions deciding to vote on strikes.
For instance, 350 union workers, including nurses, X-ray techs, and respiratory therapists, at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, California also went on strike early Monday morning, citing unsafe staffing and “dire” conditions. The strike will last until Saturday morning and Sutter has already released a statement noting that they were “disappointed” in the union leaders who had “chosen to distract” and proven “disregard” for their patients and communities.
Other prominent nursing influencers are urging their fellow RNs to get involved with their nursing unions as they fight for better working conditions.
For example, Nurse.tori_ shared information with her Instagram followers about the importance of nursing unions and how they work to protect nurses and the best interests of patients over the profits of the business of healthcare.
“Take time to understand your organization as well as your health professional’s issues,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “If you are part of a union, get invested in understanding. It’s going to take all of us to make changes in our health system. We are in the business of humans. Humanizing what we do should be worth the investment.”
She also shared that strike votes against Kaiser are taking place in the following locations:
- UNAC/UHCP in So Cal, No Cal, HI
- USW in Riverside, San Bernardino
- OFNHPT/AFT in Oregon, WA
A travel nurse called Lex, who goes by the handle of @wanderlex on Instagram, also took to stories to share her experience actually working at Kaiser, which she described as “a horrible time,” adding that she would never work at another Kaiser facility again nor ever let her family be treated at one.
“I watched multiple patients die,” she described in her stories. “I watched them put profits over patients a thousand times. We are talking about one of the wealthiest companies in the country and virtually every room had broken or outdated equipment...I completely support the staff of Kaiser in advocating for better company policies and better treatment.”
Kaiser Permanente in Seattle is already struggling with staffing, especially in light of the COVID vaccine mandate. The health system announced on Tuesday, October 5th that they had placed 2,200 employees on unpaid leave for failing to get the vaccine or securing an appropriate exemption.
In response to the threats of strike, 10news.com reports that Kaiser has released the following statement:
“We have been bargaining in good faith with the Alliance of Health Care Unions to reach fair and equitable agreements that provide our employees with excellent, market-competitive wages and benefits, and we are optimistic that we will reach an agreement before a potential strike would begin.”
Sign The Petition
The California Nurses’ Union is also asking anyone--from nurses outside of the union to the general public--to sign a petition to Kaiser to invest in better patient care. You can sign the petition here.
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