75,000 Kaiser union workers walk off job on 1st day of strike over staffing issues, wages

ByAnser Hassan and Lena Howland KGO logo
Thursday, October 5, 2023
75,000 Kaiser workers walk off job in largest US health care strike
The biggest health care strike in U.S. history is now happening as 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers are hitting the picket lines Wednesday morning.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- Health care workers from Kaiser Permanente walked off the job in California and across the country Wednesday.

In total, 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers hit the picket lines, with 60,000 of them being in California.

The signs read: "Put Patients First!," which tell a big part of the striking Kaiser Permanente workers' story.

"We are begging for resources to do our job," says Joshua Barba, an operation room surgical technician at Kaiser Walnut Creek. "We want (Kaiser) to address the short staffing crisis that we have (at) hand."

Barba is one of the 75,000 employees on strike across the country, making it one of the largest health care worker strikes in U.S. history.

"We've had enough and we want support, we want to work in good faith, we want the Kaiser executives to come back to the table, and bargain in good faith with us," Vanessa Jenkins, an SEIU rep. chair for Walnut Creek said.

One of the main issues is centered around staffing. Employees claim Kaiser hospitals are understaffed, though still making profits.

"The less people you have doing the same job, you are making more money. You are charging the same to your patients, but you are not paying the labor to do so, right. So, it's hard, we are burning out. We are quitting," explains Barba.

Julian Robinson, and M.R.I. tech in Walnut Creek, is an employee spokesperson for the strike. He says Kaiser committed to hiring 10,000 more employees, which he says hasn't happened.

"It does take time. But when you're not even close to the number, it just kind of shows you are not actually putting in the work," says Robinson.

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Up to 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers could go on strike Wednesday, and patients are expected to feel immediate impact.

Kaiser says they bargained through the night with union representatives to try and reach a last-minute deal. They say progress had been made with agreements on several specific proposals late Tuesday.

But that progress wasn't enough to stop what's now being called the biggest health care strike in history.

"Obviously, you see the progress, right, we're on strike because if they made negotiations or anything, we would be inside working for our patients," Jenkins said.

Some of the top concerns union members want addressed are chronic understaffing, worker burnout and low pay.

"I want to be very clear, that we want to make sure our patients are taken care of, at the best that we're supposed to, the best that they deserve, it's not short staffing, it's not having to be rescheduled, all that good stuff, we just want to make sure that they're getting that world class patient care," Julian Robinson, an MRI technician said.

Robinson says he's frustrated it even came to this point.

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"Because that could be my father on the table, that could be even some of the leadership's parents and kids and family and family members that need to be taken care of but are not properly taken care of so yes, I am frustrated for that reason that patient care is suffering because leadership refuses to bargain in good faith," he said.

Kaiser is assuring patients that their hospitals and ERs will remain open, even if some non-emergency services have to be rescheduled.

"Hopefully we can get this done in the next 24 hours and everyone can get back to work and taking care of our patients," Robinson said.

Kaiser Permanente, which is based in Oakland, declined to be interview. But in a statement to ABC7 News, it disputes those claims. The company says it has met that hiring goal and will continue to hire more people, though Kaiser didn't identify if those new hires are permanent or full-time staff.

In its statement, Kaiser also points to other tentative agreements:

  • Across-the-board wage increases in all markets over the next four years
  • Updating the Performance Sharing Plan to include a minimum payout opportunity and potential for up to a $3,750 payout
  • Offering minimum wages of $23/hour in California and $21/hour in markets outside of California
  • Continuing and enhancing our existing excellent health benefits and retirement income plans
  • Renewing our strong tuition assistance and training programs, and increasing funding of the education trusts
  • But Linda Hunter, who is part of the bargaining team, says Kaiser is not negotiating in good faith.

    "They are not bargaining in good faith. We are pushing for good faith bargaining. We are just stressing the point of safety, patient care," says Hunter. "A patient crisis we are in now because of short staffing. And we are asking that they fix that and that they fix it immediately."

    Kaumudi Misra, Associate Professor of Management at Cal State East Bay, says all the national strikes around the country have one common theme: COVID-19.

    "Especially for health care workers. They have been hit hard," says Misra.

    She says the strike sends a strong message. And adds that Kaiser could respond by considering various staffing options.

    "What arrangements they have, to have the current employees have some slack. They could use floaters. They could cross train," suggests Misra.

    Kaiser hospital remains open. Doctors are not on strike, although Kaiser says some its operations made be closed or running on reduced hours.

    Employees says if a contract is not reached by Friday, the last day of the three-day strike, they will consider a longer two-week strike.

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