Over 75,000 nurses, health aides and medical technicians walked off on the job in multiple states on Wednesday, looking to pressure employer Kaiser Permanente to increase wages and fix staff shortages.
The Oakland-based company is one of the largest insurers and hospital operators in the U.S., covering about 13 million people and running 39 hospitals.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents 85,000 employees across the nation, voted to authorize a three-day strike across California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and single-day strikes in Virginia and Washington, D.C. They claim understaffing by their employer has harmed patient care in the name of boosting profits, and that Kaiser has refused to negotiate a new contract in good faith.
The unions claim this is the largest healthcare worker strike in history, joining a year of labor actions which includes several previous healthcare strikes over the very same issues – poor pay and short staffing.
The last workers’ contract was negotiated in 2019, pre-pandemic. It expired on Sept. 30 with no new agreement in place. While the company and unions agreed to a 40% increase to funding for education and training of new employees in Monday’s negotiation, for minimum pay raises Kaiser only came up to an offer of a 12.5-16% increase over four years, as opposed to the 25% with improved benefits the union was asking for.
Vital Kaiser services as well as community and hospital pharmacies will remain open through the strike, and 60% of workers – including doctors – are still on the job. However, outpatient pharmacies may temporarily close if the strike drags on, and non-emergency and elective services may be rescheduled.
Kaiser Permanente reported $2.1 billion in net income for the second quarter of 2023, of more than $25 billion in operating revenue – most of it from programs like Medicare and Medicaid.