32,000 health care workers notify Kaiser Permanente they will go on strike beginning Nov. 15

By AFSCME Staff ·

LOS ANGELES – A total of 32,000 health care workers in California and Oregon are preparing to strike against Kaiser Permanente beginning Nov. 15.

Members of AFSCME-affiliated United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) on Thursday delivered a 10-day notice of a strike against the health care giant, covering 21,000 workers – registered nurses, pharmacists, midwives, physical and occupational therapists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others.

The 7,400 members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7600 in Southern California and 3,400 members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals (OFNHP) will also strike against KP starting Nov. 15.

If the strike takes place, it would be the largest such worker protest this year. The action comes as fed-up workers nationwide are increasingly standing up for fairer compensation and better working conditions at a time of rising corporate profits.

KP can avert the strike by altering its proposals to the satisfaction of the workers, which the company has so far been unwilling to do. The last time UNAC/UHCP struck against KP was 1980, before many of its current members were born. In 1995, members voted to authorize a strike but settled the contract prior to taking that action.

The strike would affect 366 facilities in Southern California, including hospitals and medical centers in Anaheim, Antelope Valley, Baldwin Park, Downey, Fontana, Harbor City, Irvine, Los Angeles, Ontario-Vineyard, Panorama City, Riverside, San Diego, West Los Angeles and Woodland Hills, as well as hundreds of clinics, quick care clinics in Target stores, and medical office buildings from Bakersfield down to San Diego and Los Angeles out to the Inland Empire.

UNAC/UHCP workers overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike last month over KP’s proposals to depress wages for current employees and slash wages for incoming workers during a national health care staffing crisis. AFSCME President Lee Saunders joined UNAC/UHCP members at an Oct. 30 rally to deliver the message that our union’s members stand with them in their fight for fairness, economic justice and better patient care.

KP – whose business is booming – has failed to address union proposals that would tackle pressing problems such as staffing shortages, racial justice and equal health access, UNAC/UHCP said in a press release.

UNAC/UHCP President Denise Duncan, a registered nurse and an AFSCME vice president, said Kaiser’s wage proposals resemble those of a “slash-and-burn corporation.”

“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, health care workers and professionals,” Duncan said. “For health care providers, a strike is always a last resort. … Nurses and health care professionals have one priority: delivering the best possible care to our patients. Kaiser’s actions are destructive to that priority.”

Kim Mullen, a registered nurse and a UNAC/UHCP member who works at the Kaiser South Bay Medical Center in Harbor City, said she’s prepared to strike for the welfare of her patients.

“My patients deserve the best care and attracting the best nurses is what’s best for them, and I need to make sure that we continue to attract the best nurses who want to stay at Kaiser,” she said.

Alaa Abou-Arab, an occupational therapist and a UNAC/UHCP member who works at the Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center, stressed that KP is not just his employer but also his family’s health care provider.

“My son was born at Kaiser. My doctor is at Kaiser. The reality is: we’re not just Kaiser staff, we’re Kaiser patients. This stuff is real for us,” he said. “We’re relying on the future generation of nurses to take care of us, too. We’re striking in solidarity with those nurses and for our own families.”

KP’s most recent proposal, delivered during bargaining on Nov. 2, was akin to a Trojan horse maneuver. It was aimed at pushing through the company’s two-tier wage proposal and was poorly camouflaged by sub-par wage increases and bonuses, according to UNAC/UHCP. (Read UNAC/UHCP’s report, “Two-Tier Wage Systems: A Costly and Extreme Wage Scheme With Dangerous Impacts on Patient Safety.”)

California’s top two legislative leaders also oppose KP’s two-tier proposals.

In a letter to Greg Adams, KP’s chairman and CEO, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins and Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon wrote: “We understand this issue had been the primary reason these negotiations have stalled during a period when good labor and management relations are critical to address the increased demand for quality health care services throughout California. Installing a two-tiered hiring and wage system would undermine this relationship.”