REGION — Unions representing thousands of Kaiser Permanente health care workers in Southern California said today their members have voted to authorize a strike, which union officials say would likely “cripple” the health care giant’s operations.
The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals said 96% of 18,209 participating members working at Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California hospitals and clinics voted this month in favor of authorizing the strike, if necessary.
Members of the United Steelworkers Local 7600, which also includes Kaiser Permanente employees in Southern California, have also voted to support granting the unions authority to call a strike.
As required by law, Kaiser must be given 10 days’ notice before work stoppages can begin, which UNAC/UHCP said in a statement would be the largest strike in the country so far this year.
The two unions say they represent a combined 31,000 Kaiser workers in a wide range of job classes from registered nurses, physical therapists and pharmacists to licensed vocational nurses, appointment clerks, housekeeping attendants, medical assistants, customer service representatives, pharmacy assistants, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians, membership service representatives, dietary aides and more.
The unions, which are seeking 4% wage increases each year through 2023, say Kaiser wants to cut wages for health care workers amid major staffing shortages and cost-of-living increases.
“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,” said Denise Duncan, president of UNAC/UHCP. “We can no longer sit back and watch the employer continue to dismantle the progress we made in quality patient care and health plan membership growth.”
In a statement, Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, said Kaiser is continuing to work with the union’s umbrella organization, the Alliance of Health Care Unions, on reaching an agreement. Kaiser and the Alliance of Health Care Unions have been in negotiations since April.
In her statement, Peasnall said, “We ask that our employees reject a call to walk away from the patients who need them. 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.”
According to the union, a potential strike would affect Kaiser’s hospitals and medical centers in Anaheim, Bakersfield, Baldwin Park, Downey, Fontana, Irvine, Los Angeles, Ontario Vineyard, Panorama City, Riverside, San Diego, West Los Angeles, and Woodland Hills, as well as numerous clinics and medical office buildings throughout Southern California.
“Health care workers are facing record levels of burnout after 20 months of the COVID pandemic,” said USW Local 7600 President Michael Barnett.
“We urge Kaiser Permanente management to come to the table and bargain a fair contract that addresses chronic understaffing and safety issues rather than forcing workers into a labor dispute by insisting on dangerous cost- cutting measures.”