Thousands of Kaiser Permanente nurses and medical staff plan to strike
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Contract negotiations between Kaiser and his healthcare workers, union have stalled. So the employees have issued a notice to strike. That means if an agreement isn't reached up to 32,000 Kaiser nurses and other healthcare workers will go out on strike in 10 days, union members object to the small wage hike offered by Kaiser. Some claiming the amount is an insult to the work they did during the pandemic. Joining me is Matt Hoffman, KPBS health reporter, and Matt. Welcome. Hey Maureen, what is Kaiser offering in these negotiated?
Speaker 2: (00:35)
So Kaiser said that they just recently put out an updated proposal to these nurses and these other healthcare workers. I'm saying that they're offering as much as a 4% a year and pay increases with no takeaways to their, uh, what they call market-leading benefits and their retirement programs. Now the union, they want a 4% across the board raises. Um, but they say that this proposal, um, you know, sort of raises the 1% wage proposal for current employees to 2%. So sort of reading between the lines. There may be some employees could qualify for this 4%, but a lot of them obviously would not. They call this most recent, uh, proposal, uh, something of a Trojan horse, uh, to push through this two tier wage proposal. Um, that's sort of the crux of a lot of this arguing here
Speaker 1: (01:19)
And tell us about this two tiered wage structure that Kaiser is proposing. What would that entail?
Speaker 2: (01:24)
Yeah, so the two tier wage structure, as I understand it, you know, talking with union representatives, um, is that, um, after a certain date, you know, next couple of years, uh, new employees, new nurses and other healthcare workers, uh, would be hired at a lower cost, uh, than existing healthcare workers. And the union says, Hey, you know, that affects everybody from current healthcare workers to future healthcare workers. Um, and they even say patients to, um, you know, sort of saying that, uh, not only does it reduce, um, their bargaining power, uh, but it creates division in terms of having, you know, some nurses that are getting paid a certain rate and other new nurses that are getting paid a lower rate. Um, but Kaiser says that the challenge that they're trying to address here as the increasingly unaffordable cost of healthcare, and they say that wages and benefits account for half of their operational costs. And they basically say that they're asking their labor partners to address the problem and, and sort of, you know, come to an agreement here that can, uh, make employment, uh, at Kaiser viable for a long way to go. Uh, they also say that a lot of their employees, just the way that Kaiser is structured with their pay, um, some employees are earning, you know, 25, 20 6% above market average, um, in some places, uh, at about 38%, since
Speaker 1: (02:34)
People regard healthcare workers as heroes during the pandemic, Kaiser has gotten a lot of criticism over these wage offers. I'm wondering, what does the union want? Have they submitted a proposed wage hike?
Speaker 2: (02:46)
Yeah, so the union says that they want 4% across the board raises for the next few years. And they feel like that that is a fair number. Um, considering that the amount of revenue that Kaiser brings in, you know, still saying that they were very, uh, viable, uh, during the pandemic in these tough times. Um, and then you have Kaiser under their hand saying that their proposal, when we talk about this two tier wage system, um, and, and everything else aims to slow the significant over market growth and compensation. Um, so they, they say that, you know, that they need to propose this to make employment, uh, feasible at Kaiser, um, for years to come,
Speaker 1: (03:21)
No nurses, as you say, are involved in the union, that's issued the strike notice are doctors also threatening to strike?
Speaker 2: (03:28)
No doctors are not threatening to strike as part of this, but you know, we're talking about people all up and down California here, you know, 32,000 workers. I mean, sort of, as you mentioned too, it's not just nurses, but we're talking about pharmacists, midwives, physical and occupational therapists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and others. So really a broad swath of people here
Speaker 1: (03:48)
And how far reaching, what a strike like this be. I mean, how would patients be affected if the Kaiser health care workers really do go out on strike?
Speaker 2: (03:57)
Yeah. So this strike would be I'm up and down California, and even in some other areas as well, too. You know, I sorta just mentioned the number, uh, nearly 32,000 Kaiser Permanente workers. So this would be a pretty large strike. Um, and it's been sort of bubbling up here for a little bit. They've been trying to go shoot this over the last few months. Um, and Kaiser says that, that they are getting ready, you know, if, and when that needs to happen, uh, they said that their managers will, will step up here. Um, and if needed, they will bring in, you know, contingency staff, uh, to be able to maintain care for patients
Speaker 1: (04:28)
Having contract negotiations been in the works for a while over.
Speaker 2: (04:32)
Yeah, it really started heating up in September. And then, um, just, you know, almost about a month ago in, uh, early October, mid October, um, the strike vote was authorized and it doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to go on strike. Um, but now obviously they've said that the 15th is the day that they are going to go on strike. Um, and basically saying, you know, why, why Y while Kaiser is coming to the table with, you know, some things, funding, some programs, um, some, some boards and committees, um, that they're not, um, you know, they're not addressing the two tier weight system that they think is very, very problematic and they want to see those across the board wage wage increases for everyone.
Speaker 1: (05:07)
There are any indication that the Kaiser health care workers may actually go through with Australia.
Speaker 2: (05:11)
I mean, there is still time to reach a deal, right? I mean, Kaiser says that they've been meeting regularly since September and believe that an agreement that meets the interest of everyone is possible. Um, but obviously we have the strike, not only the strike vote authorization, but then we have the strike date. Um, and actually, if you go to the union's website, there's sort of an FAQ page with, you know, where to be at what time, how you can help. Um, so it seems like all indications are pointing to that. A strike is going to happen. Um, but obviously we still have a little bit more than a week. Um, so you never know what could happen at the barking table.
Speaker 1: (05:43)
I've been speaking with Matt Hoffman, KPBS health reporter, Matt.
Speaker 2: (05:46)
Thank you. Thanks, Maureen.
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.
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.
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.