The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) and United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7600 announced on Oct. 11 that 31,000 members who work at Southern California Kaiser Permanente locations have voted -- by an overwhelming majority -- to grant the unions the authority to call a strike.
“Health care workers are facing record levels of burnout after 20 months of the COVID pandemic,” said USW Local 7600 President Michael Barnett in a news release. “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.”
Together UNAC/UHCP and USW Local 7600 (which is based in Fontana) represent a combined 31,000 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.
They and other members of the Alliance of Health Care Unions serve Kaiser Permanente’s 12 million patients across 39 hospitals and more than 700 medical office buildings.
The Alliance has been at the bargaining table with Kaiser Permanente since April. The 21 union locals represent more than 50,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente medical centers and offices nationwide.
Among the top priorities for workers is ensuring a means to effectively fill open positions and maintain the safe-staffing levels necessary to protect patients and those who care for them, the union said.
Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser, said the health plan giant is "committed to resolving this quickly."
"We have made progress in many important areas, have extended an initial economic offer, and will continue to work collaboratively with the Alliance to reach an agreement that meets the interests of both parties," Peasnall said in a statement.
"We strongly believe that differences in bargaining are best worked out at the bargaining table, and we have a 24-year history of partnership with the unions in the Alliance that proves it. We understand that some union leaders are now calling for a strike authorization vote, even though our members and communities are continuing to face the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. A strike authorization does not automatically trigger a strike. Unions still would be required to provide us with a 10-day notification before any work stoppage could commence.
"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.
"We are extremely grateful for our front-line health care employees, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring."