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Kaiser Workers In San Diego Stage 24-Hour Strike

Unionized health care workers will stage a 24-hour strike in San Diego today as part of a work stoppage at 160 Kaiser Permanente facilities statewide.

Walkouts are planned for 80 Kaiser Permanente facilities in Southern California, including medical centers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Woodland Hills and Downey, said Leighton Woodhouse, a spokesman for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which is organizing the strike.

Kaiser officials issued a statement saying it was implementing "comprehensive contingency plans'' to ensure continued care and patient safety and that all facilities would remain open during any work stoppage.

"We recognize the NUHW's legal right to conduct a strike, but we believe the bargaining table is the best place to resolve differences, and regardless of any strike activity, we continue to seek meaningful dialogue and negotiate in good faith; we hope to reach an agreement soon,'' according to Kaiser.

The union said the walkouts are in response to Kaiser's proposal to cut health care and retirement benefits for thousands of NUHW members that the nonprofit HMO employs statewide, including about 2,500 in Southern California.

The NUHW is also unhappy with what union officials call chronic staffing deficiencies at Kaiser facilities and excessive compensation packages given top executives at a time when Kaiser has imposed rate increases on hundreds of thousands of California policyholders.

The NUHW, which has 4,000 members employed by Kaiser statewide, staged similar walkouts at Kaiser facilities in September.

During the September walkouts, about 200 audiologists, dieticians, health educators, social workers, speech pathologists and mental health therapists participated in San Diego.

"We expect the overwhelming majority of the folks we represent to participate,'' Woodhouse said.

According to the union, another 17,000 registered nurses with the California Nurses Association and another 650 members of the Stationary Engineers Local 39, all in Northern California, will be picketing at Kaiser medical centers in sympathy with the NUHW.

The NUHW gave Kaiser 10 days notice of the job action, Woodhouse said, allowing the company to make arrangements to mitigate patient risk.

"That said, it's not going to be business as usual in these facilities. The strike is going to be disruptive,'' he said.

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