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Thousands of Kaiser Permanente nurses and medical staff plan to strike

Mental health professionals picketing in front of the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center on Dec. 16, 2019.
Matt Hoffman
Mental health professionals picketing in front of the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center on Dec. 16, 2019.

The union that represents thousands of Kaiser Permanente nurses and other health care workers in Southern California has set a strike date.

On Thursday, the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals and United Steelworkers Local 7600 filed a 10-day notice that they intend to stop work on Nov. 15. The warning is required by state law so health facilities can prepare.

A mid-pandemic walkout would affect 366 Kaiser facilities in Southern California.

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente nurses and medical staff plan to strike
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

If an agreement isn’t reached before the deadline, 28,400 unionized nurses, therapists, physician assistants and other health workers will go on strike after rejecting a contract that includes a 2% raise and a lump sum payment.

“When I saw this proposal, I was so disgusted with it and I was ashamed," said Charmaine Morales, executive vice president of United Nurses Associations of California and Union of Health Care Professionals. "And the respect that I've had for the organization — don't have it anymore.”

The unions are also objecting to a proposed two-tiered wage system. Kaiser is proposing lower wages for future hires than for current employees, which they say will help keep costs down without cutting pay, a stipulation the unions emphatically reject.

“I know some people may use other words, but I'm gonna say it's baloney," Morales said. "We're saying ‘no’ to the two-tier system, and we mean it."

For its part, Kaiser says health care is increasingly unaffordable and wages are a big part of the reason. The company says its union members earn 26% above the average industry wage.

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente nurses and medical staff plan to strike

Kaiser said in a statement that the nonprofit company is prepared to continue providing care to its nine million members statewide if a strike occurs:

While we expect to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that will address the interests of both parties, we are obligated to the communities we serve to be well-prepared for the unlikely scenario of a labor disruption. Accordingly, we have established plans in each of our markets to ensure continuity of care, which includes sourcing temporary staff.

Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.

“We're asking for a reasonable 4% per year across the board wage increase,” said Lawrence Louie, a pharmacist at a Kaiser facility in Diamond Bar. He’s also president of the pharmacists’ affiliate union.

“Even Social Security is offering a 5.4% cost of living adjustment. So for Kaiser to initially offer us 1%, and then 2% contingent upon the two-tier is really, really insulting,” Louie said. “Let me be clear: No one wants to go on strike.”

Nearly 3,400 workers from Kaiser Permanente in Oregon and Southwest Washington also plan to strike on Nov. 15 over their own contract issues.