Employees of Kaiser Permanente hospitals throughout Southern California and Oregon will go on strike due to changes in their payment system, after a vote held by the Union of Health Care Professionals (UHCP) and the United Nurses Association of California (UNAC) from Oct. 1 to Oct. 10.
96% of voters were in favor of striking. Once notice is given to the employer, the strikes will commence as early as 10 days after Oct. 10’s final voting.
Kaiser’s proposed two-tier wage system offers a 1% raise for current workers but pays new employees at a 26% to 39% lower rate than current ones. This system has raised concerns for the employment of nurses at Kaiser.
“We’re concerned about the future of nursing and how we recruit and retain nurses and other health care workers who will serve our communities for years to come,” President of UHCP/UNAC Denise Duncan said.
Understaffing in Kaiser hospitals was exacerbated by the agency’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements, leading to a loss of 2,000 employees who refused to be vaccinated. Current employees are required to be vaccinated and those on leave are required to receive their initial COVID-19 vaccine shot by Dec. 1 or face termination.
Kaiser created the two-tier wage system to cut costs in the face of increasing demand for higher wages in the medical industry.
“At the heart of our dispute is the fact that health care is increasingly unaffordable and escalating wages are half the cost of health care,” Senior Vice President of Kaiser Human Resources Arlene Peasnall stated. “Our employees represented by Alliance Unions earn about 26% above the average market wage, and in some places, it’s 38% above market levels.”
The UHCP/UNAC has been negotiating with Kaiser regarding cutting costs without enacting the new wage system for months prior to the vote to strike.
“We’ve proposed multiple ideas at the table and tried to discuss them, and Kaiser has not even entertained any of the ideas that we’ve put forward,” UHCP/UNAC Labor Economist Jane Carter said in an interview with NPR.
Kaiser would rank No. 34 on the list of Fortune 500 companies this year, having over $44.5 billion in reserves and $2 billion in profits from last year alone.
“They’re claiming that the sky is falling or will be falling in the future. And they’ve not proven that whatsoever,” Carter said. “In fact, they’re a very profitable company, but they’re asking for significant cuts from our membership, from our frontline heroes that worked day in and day out during the pandemic, who fought to keep people alive and worried about taking the virus home to their own families, suffering through PTSD.”
Kaiser has stated that they will continue negotiating with unions to reach a conclusion that would satisfy both parties. Kaiser plans to staff hospitals with contingency staff in the event of a walk-out.
Angela Isabel Casillas is a City News Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.