Members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7600 at Kaiser Permanente have scheduled a strike authorization vote to be held Oct. 2-10 as negotiations continue over a new labor agreement, the union said in an updated news release on Sept. 23.
“With demands that would negatively impact worker safety and patient care, it’s clear that management is more concerned with pursuing its own agenda than it is about workers and patients,” said Local 7600 President Michael Barnett. “We urge Kaiser Permanente to come to the table and bargain with us for a fair contract rather than force workers into a labor dispute by insisting on dangerous cost-cutting measures that would make it impossible to maintain safe staffing levels.”
About 7,400 health care workers in USW Local 7600, in conjunction with the 20 other local unions who make up the Alliance of Health Care Unions (AHCU), have been bargaining with Kaiser Permanente since this past spring. Both the national and local agreements expire Sept. 30.
Barnett said Kaiser Permanente’s most divisive demands include a two-tiered wage scale that would pay new hires significantly less for doing the same jobs as current workers, making it even more difficult to fill empty positions.
Barnett said the “paltry” wage increases that the company has proposed for current members of the union also do nothing to address the “tremendous” pay disparity between Inland Empire workers and their area counterparts.
As a result, members of USW Local 7600 plan to vote on whether to grant negotiators the authority to institute a strike if necessary.
“We’re stretched thin, and after more than a year and a half of sacrifices throughout the pandemic, morale is starting to falter,” said Barnett. “We’ve pulled together to make sure that shifts are covered and our patients are well cared for, sometimes at the expense of our own health and security. But we need management to take safe staffing seriously, and we need them to prioritize our community as much as we do.”
The decision to hold the vote comes after the local decided to pause their labor-management partnership with Kaiser on Sept. 17 over similar concerns.
USW Local 7600 represents workers in more than 200 different job classes, including licensed vocational nurses, appointment clerks, housekeeping attendants, medical assistants, customer service representatives, pharmacy assistants, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians, membership service representatives and dietary aides, across 72 Kaiser Permanente locations in Southern California.
In Fontana, USW Local 7600 is headquartered at 16855 Arrow Boulevard.
----- IN RESPONSE to the earlier pause of the labor-management partnership, Arlene Peasnall, the senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, issued this statement last weekend:
“The last 20 months of this pandemic have been an incredibly challenging and stressful time to work on the front lines of health care. We are extremely grateful for our frontline health care workforce, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring, and to our labor partners who stood side-by-side with us through this unprecedented period in the history of health care.
“We have worked hard to ease the stresses that this pandemic has caused our people. Since early in the pandemic response, Kaiser Permanente has provided nearly $600 million in employee assistance to ensure that our frontline employees had access to alternate housing, special childcare grants, and additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure. When it became clear at year-end that our workers’ performance bonuses could be reduced by the effects of the pandemic, we instead chose to guarantee all eligible union-represented employees at least a 100 percent payout of their performance bonus, amounting to thousands of dollars a person on average.
“Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance of Health Care Unions began national bargaining on April 20, 2021, and we continue to engage in negotiations. At the heart of our dispute is the fact that health care is increasingly unaffordable and escalating wages are half of the cost of health care. Our employees represented by Alliance unions earn around 26 percent above the average market wage, and in some places it’s 38 percent above market levels.
“On Aug. 25, we offered a proposal that includes wage increases for all current employees and no changes to the current retirement plan. It also guarantees no wage cuts for current employees. These increases are on top of the already market-leading pay and benefits our employees receive, as confirmed by independent wage surveys and the government’s own data compiled by CMS. To help address future costs and ensure we continue to be affordable for our members, we are proposing a market-based compensation structure for those hired in 2023 and beyond that will allow our new employees to be paid above market wages on average, enabling us to continue attracting and retaining top talent.
“Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership was created 24 years ago, and has a great track record of serving as the framework through which we can solve sometimes very difficult problems. Instead of abandoning it, in the spirit of the partnership we ask union leaders to continue to work constructively toward an agreement.
“We believe continued discussion at the bargaining table is the best way to resolve issues and differences and reach an agreement.”