Kaiser strike: What it could mean for patients if 75,000 workers walk off job

ByLeslie Brinkley, Tim Johns KGO logo
Wednesday, October 4, 2023
What it could mean for patients if Kaiser workers go on strike
Up to 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers could go on strike Wednesday, and patients are expected to feel immediate impact.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- The biggest health care strike in U.S. history is inching closer to happening. Out of the 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers who could walk the picket line, 60,000 of them work at Kaiser facilities in California including many here in the Bay Area. Both sides are still at the bargaining table.

Union member Priscilla Opfermann helps coordinate patient care at Kaiser's Walnut Creek Medical Center. She believes the pandemic pushed health care workers like her to the brink. She says she now gets emotional seeing patients.

"The way that it's looking, we're going to be out there tomorrow at 6 a.m.," Opfermann said. "The big items we need to discuss that the short-staffing crisis get taken care of - are not being brought to the table."

RELATED: 75,000 Kaiser workers threaten to strike if new deal isn't reached before contract expires

Health care workers are poised to strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities over unfair labor practices for three days, from 6 a.m. Wednesday through 6 a.m. Saturday.

John August is a conflict resolution expert who was on the former Kaiser union negotiating team, and is now at Cornell University. He says, "Patients will feel an immediate impact, especially if they need lab work, diagnostic imaging, pharmacy and vision care and so on because most of the employees who are the bulk of the workers in those facilities would be on strike."

He says while doctors and registered nurses will be ready to go, hospital disruptions could possibly include clerical staff, meal service and housekeeping, which affects infection control.

MORE: Gov. Newsom rejects bill to give unemployment checks to striking workers

Kaiser Permanente, in a statement, said to mitigate the impact of a strike they have plans to expand Kaiser's network of pharmacies to include neighborhood locations, will reschedule some non-emergency and elective procedures and are onboarding critical care professionals to work during a strike.

"Kaiser Permanente has an obligation to do those things," August said. They certainly want to provide those services during the strike but it's not going to be easy."

In a statement, Kaiser told ABC7 News that while talks are ongoing, several provisions have already been reached.

Two other Bay Area unions have approved a sympathy strike. IFPTE local 20 and OPEIU local 29 workers say they will also walk off the job in solidarity -- they include technical employees, clinical lab scientists and home health therapists.

"I think that this strike should be seen - should it occur - as a national problem that affects everyone in health care," August said.

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