Hundreds of Kaiser staff members march outside Oakland hospital ahead of October strike

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Several hundred Kaiser employees and their families rallied and marched through Oakland near the Kaiser Permanente hospital at the corner of Broadway and MacArthur Boulevard on Labor Day.

Harvey Pulliam has worked for Kaiser for 17 years. His current role is a shipping lead at a pharmaceutical warehouse. Pulliam was told his job will be outsourced in April 2020.

"How am I going to pay my mortgage?" he asked. "They are taking away my retirement. It's going to affect us greatly. It's going to be something hard to swallow to take a $10 to $15 pay cut will be tough."

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Among their concerns are low wages, high pay for Kaiser executives, staffing shortage and outsourcing jobs.

Almost 70 employees then subjected themselves to arrest, as they engaged in civil disobedience by blocking the intersection.

Sonya Allen-Smith, a radiologist technician who is one of the employees who agreed to be arrested, says the unions want to send a message to the Kaiser.

"The big message for today is Kaiser has lost their way," she said. They lost their way in providing quality healthcare for our families and our community."

Among the group of workers making a circle that blocked the intersection of Broadway and MacArthur Boulevard, we met Rexie Dizon.

"I'm ready because I'm doing this for my family and my friends and my union brother and sisters," Dizon said. "If Kaiser falls, the union falls and everybody falls."

The unions assert that Kaiser, which is a nonprofit, has made $5 billion the first two quarters of this year alone. They claim that despite such huge profits, Kaiser isn't paying its worker livable wages.

"And then you want to go in and outsource our jobs, keep going up on rates for members to receive care here," said Allen-Smith. "They lost their way. It's about corporate greed."

Along with the demand for better wages, the unions want safe staffing levels and to "restore a true worker-management relationship."

For its part, Kaiser says calls the rally a "publicity stunt," adding that hospital management has negotiated in good faith.

"We are really proud of strong labor-management partnership," says Edmond Chan, a senior vice president with Kaiser East Bay. "It's just really disappointing that some our unions chose today to plan a civil disobedience and using up city and police resources. We look forward to a contract that makes sense to both sides."

Monday's Labor Day protest comes ahead of a nationwide strike planned for October, which could affect more than 80,000 Kaiser employees across the country, of which 66,000 are based in California.

According to the unions, in Dec. 2018, the National Labor Relations Board charged the Kaiser Permanente with "failing to bargain in good faith."

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On Sept. 30, 2018, the national contract with Kaiser expired.

Chan added, "I can say that we are committed to following that established practice and make sure that we can come up with a competitive contract that makes sense to both sides."

If all 80,000 employees strike, the union claims it will be the largest walkout since 185,000 Teamsters went on strike at United Parcel Service in 1997.
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