WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- On the last day of Kaiser workers' three-day strike, we're learning that the U.S. Department of Labor is getting involved to help bring an end to what is the largest health care strike in the U.S. history.
Dave Regan, President of SEIU-UHW, addressed a crowd of striking Kaiser employees Friday morning at Kaiser Walnut Creek.
"Yes, (President Biden) supports the workers' collective bargaining work!" said Regan. "We got to run through the finish line. But we're winning this thing! Keep it up!"
Regan told employees that Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor, Julie Su, has been in contact with both sides, and may take part in negotiations that are set to resume next Thursday in Oakland.
"I think she played a valuable role. And I believe she will be willing to be involved to help us get an agreement," says Regan.
Kaiser employees took part in a planned three-day strike to raise concerns, in large part, over staffing shortages and to demand higher wages. A reported 75,000 workers took to the picket line, making this the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history.
"At the core of everything, we just don't have enough people to do the job," says Regan. "Kaiser has refused to give us information we believe we are entitled to. That is why we think this is what's called, 'an unfair labor practice strike.'"
The union says the workload has increased, which impacts patient care. They want 10,000 new employees to be hired. In an email to ABC7 News on Tuesday, Kaiser claims the demand to hire 10,000 workers has been met, an assertion that Regan refutes.
"They say they have filled 10,000 positions. If you are really careful, most of that is people who are doing internal transfers," says Regan. "They have not gotten there. They are parsing words. It's just not true."
Kaiser declined interview requests with ABC7 News, stating it won't discuss details, "out of respect for the bargaining process."
But San Jose State University Professor Robert Ovetz has some concerns about the Biden administration's possible role in the negotiations.
"When the government steps in, they are stepping in effectively on the side of the employers," explains Professor Ovetz, who teaches political science.
Ovetz, who is a union member himself, says the U.S. Department of Labor's involvement may force Kaiser back to the bargaining table. But he adds, when the government gets involved, it often forces workers to concede some of their demands.
"My concern here is that if they step in, and pressure the union not to strike a second time, that they may not achieve their main demand," he says.
Still, Regan is optimistic that the end is in sight.
"It is not that it's too complicated, there are too many points of disagreement. It really is, this needs to be done. Let's do the right thing. We think we can have it done next week," says Regan.
However, Regan did say if next week's negotiations fail, the coalition is planning an even longer strike beginning in November.
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