Over 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walked out on the job Wednesday morning, kicking off the largest healthcare worker strike in U.S. history.
As of October 4, Kaiser Permanente workers are officially on strike after unions and Kaiser executives failed to reach a contract deal on September 30. The strike impacts hundreds of Kaiser Permanente hospitals and facilities in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
In an emailed statement to Healthnews, The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions says the strike began in Washington D.C. and Virginia at 6 a.m. ET on October 4 and expanded to Colorado at 6 a.m. MT, followed by tens of thousands of workers hitting the picket lines in California, Oregon, and Washington at 6 a.m. PT.
The strike is expected to last until October 7 if the unions and Kaiser cannot reach an agreement.
According to the Coalition, healthcare workers are protesting subpar wages and Kaiser executives' bad faith bargaining, which is hampering the process of identifying solutions to solve the Kaiser short-staffing crisis.
The workers say the chronic understaffing that has occurred post-pandemic can lead to patients experiencing long wait times, misdiagnosis, and neglect.
The Coalition says that in recent days, Kaiser executives have maintained aggressive threats of outsourcing, which obstructed negotiations at a time when the company is failing to retain key employees.
Healthcare workers on strike include nurses, home health aides, and emergency department, radiology, and pharmacy technicians, as well as hundreds of other positions.
In an emailed statement to Healthnews, Kaiser Permanente says, "Both Kaiser Permanente management and Coalition union representatives are still at the bargaining table, having worked through the night in an effort to reach an agreement. There has been a lot of progress, with agreements reached on several specific proposals late Tuesday."
As of October 2, Kaiser's offer includes guaranteed across-the-board wage increases from 12.5% to 16% over four years and a proposed $21 minimum wage in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, and Washington D.C.
Also on the table is a $23 minimum wage in California, which would increase each year of the 4-year contract.
"We remain committed to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages, excellent benefits, generous retirement income plans, and valuable professional development opportunities," Kaiser adds.
What can Kaiser patients expect during the strike?
Kaiser says hospitals, emergency departments, and inpatient pharmacies serving its hospitals will remain open during the strike, as its facilities will continue to be staffed by physicians, experienced managers, and other key staff. Kaiser will also enhance staffing with contingent workers if needed.
Moreover, Kaiser will contact patients to reschedule non-emergency and elective services in some locations impacted by the strike.
In addition, the organization is expanding its network of pharmacy locations to ease any inconveniences due to the potential closure of Kaiser's outpatient pharmacies.
On October 13, Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers reached a tentative agreement for a new contract. Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su assisted in the talks between Kaiser executives and the workers, resolving key issues.
According to an emailed press release, details of the preliminary agreement include:
- Addressing the staffing crisis by raising wages by 21% over four years to better retain current healthcare workers.
- Establishing a new healthcare worker minimum wage – $25 per hour in California and $23 per hour in other states where Kaiser Permanente operates.
- Protective terms around subcontracting and outsourcing, which will keep experienced healthcare workers in jobs and provide strong continuity of care for patients.
- Launching initiatives to invest in the workforce and address the staffing crisis, including streamlining hiring practices, increased training and education funding, mass hiring events, and a commitment to upskill existing workers and invest in the training of future healthcare workers.
- Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser Permanente's Newest Proposal.