Nearly 32,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California and Oregon plan to strike Nov. 15, the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals announced Thursday.
The union represents 21,000 employees of the Oakland, California-based not-for-profit integrated health system. Thousands more workers who belong to the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and a United Steelworkers local also notified the company they intend to strike Nov. 15. The unions’ contracts with Kaiser Permanente expired Oct. 1 and union members voted to authorize a labor action weeks later. Nearly 2,000 Kaiser Permanenta employees with the National Union of Healthcare Workers also OK’d a strike last month but have not called one.
Kaiser Permanente could not immediately be reached for comment. A strike could be averted if the union backs down or if the company gives into the labor groups’ demands.
“The lives of our patients and the health of our communities are dependent on the outcome of these negotiations. 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, healthcare workers and professionals—wage proposals that resemble those of a slash-and-burn corporation, not the leading healthcare provider that our members helped build,” United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals President Denise Duncan, a registered nurse, said in a news release.
“For healthcare 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,” Duncan said.
The union called Kaiser Permanente’s latest proposal “a Trojan horse” to get a two-tier wage system approved. Throughout bargaining talks, unions have objected to the company’s bid to offer lower compensation to new hires compared to current employees. In addition, the health system has offered 2% raises to workers already employed there.
If a strike goes forward, it will mark the first time since 1980 that the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals has initiated a work stoppage against Kaiser Permanente. The union was close to striking 15 years later but ultimately reached an agreement with the health system.
Under federal labor law, healthcare unions are required to give employers a 10-day notice before striking. The open-ended strike will begin at 7:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, according to the union. In southern California, 366 sites will be affected by the strike, including hospitals, medical centers, clinics, Target clinics and office buildings.