The most significant healthcare strike in US history is scheduled to begin on October 4th, involving over 75,000 healthcare employees at Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest non-profit private healthcare provider.
Staff are calling for major adjustments to staffing numbers and compensation increases that take into account the recent high inflation. The workers’ union contract expired over the weekend.
“It just appears like patient care and staffing shortages are unimportant. Henry Perez, an intensive care unit secretary at Kaiser Permanente in Modesto, California, for about four years, said, “It’s mind blowing to see Kaiser Permanente, that once an industry leader that liked to call themselves the gold standard of care, be so out of touch with employees, with their patients, and their more focused on putting profits over patient care.”
Hundreds of facilities in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington, DC, will be impacted by the strike. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions stated that they will call another, longer strike involving more workers in Washington if they do not see progress at the bargaining table in response to the walkout.
“They treated us like zeros by not negotiating in good faith, and they always praised us as healthcare heroes during the pandemic,” Perez added.
He clarified that working in an emergency care unit means that on some days, he must perform the duties of two, three, or four other unit assistants. He also claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic has made the issue worse by causing patients to have to wait a long time for assistance, which puts their safety in jeopardy.
“In addition to managing 102 patients in my unit, I will also be in charge of the entire hospital, which leads to burnout, mental distress, and stress.” We’re always operating on fumes because of staffing, as I can see in the nurses I support,” he continued.
In California, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Hawaii, Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia, Kaiser Permanente provides care to 12.7 million members. In the first half of 2023, the non-profit recorded profits of over $3 billion, and at least 49 corporate leaders received salaries surpassing $1 million per year.
After cuts to the department, Keven Dardon, a patient access representative for Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside medical center in Clackamas, Oregon, for 14 years, said that his department, which had about 60 employees before the Covid-19 pandemic, now has less than 40. This has caused long wait times and delays for patients trying to check into their appointments.
“The hospital environment and the medical offices here have really suffered from it,” Dardon remarked. That is the cause of our war. Our frontline staff members are requesting that Kaiser Permanente executives attend the meeting; we have made numerous proposals to address the staffing problem, but our executives are simply not listening to us and aren’t even showing up to consider our ideas.
A teleservice representative for Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, California named Jeffrey Melara made the case that despite the organization’s rising membership, staffing levels haven’t kept up with the demand.
Melara stated, “We want our patients to be safe and to receive the best care possible.” Nobody desires to go on strike. Instead of considering the needs of the patients and workers, which comprise the majority of us, the millionaire executives are only concerned with their own profits and rising salaries, so we must unite as a group.
A Kaiser Permanente representative refuted union and employee allegations of a short staffing problem, stating that the company leads the industry in total compensation in every market in which it operates.
“In the past two years, we have hired over 50,000 frontline employees—29,000 in 2022 and another 22,000 so far this year—despite the severe national lack of health care workers. More than 9,800 workers hired into positions represented by the alliance are included in this year’s new hires, according to an email from a Kaiser Permanente representative.
They added that while they are still negotiating with the coalition to prevent a strike, they have backup plans in place to keep providing medical treatment while the action is going on.