SAN DIEGO — Health care workers at several Kaiser Permanente locations in San Diego County are now on strike.
Some 75,000 Kaiser workers are participating in the three-day strike, which began at 6 a.m. Wednesday across California and in four other states.
Throughout the Wednesday, at least 300 workers were picketing in front of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center on Zion Avenue, one of the larger Kaiser facilities in San Diego. Unionized workers lined both sides of the street.
The strike is comprised of technical workers — positions like vocational nurses, nursing assistance, housekeeping, food services, reception and respiratory care. According to their union, these types of employees account for about 40% of the health care provider’s workforce.
“I’m out here for better staffing, wages across the board that compensate me for the past three years,” an X-ray technician named Robert said to FOX 5 Wednesday morning. “We all worked through COVID, we worked with N-95s for one week at a time, right before the vaccine came out.
“We saved Kaiser, and now it’s their turn to help compensate. The rate of inflation, their offer is not keeping up with anything that we need. It’s not even a consideration — it’s a slap in the face. They called us a hero, and this is how they treat the heroes.”
Across town, hundreds of striking employees were also picketing outside Kaiser Permanente’s La Mesa location.
“We are literally taking money out of pockets to show that what Kaiser is offering isn’t fair to us to patients,” said Angela Cota, a licensed optician with Kaiser who picketed in La Mesa. Cota has been a licensed optician with Kaiser for 10 years and said helping patients fill their eye-glass prescriptions has become increasingly exhausting.
“We are doing the job of more than one person, there are times when we are pushing into lunch and we haven’t had our first break yet, absolutely ridiculous that we are losing track of time because the line is so consistent,” Cota said.
Doctors or registered nurses are not included in the strike, but the list of workers that are on strike shows this could still be disruptive for patients. Kaiser says they have also brought in temporary workers to fill in vacant positions while the unionized workers are picketing.
“I feel like we have to make a stand,” said Brittany Porras, a surgery technician with Kaiser for 10 years. Porras said patient care is in a crisis.
She explained that “patients are frustrated, because we’re having to move so fast … sometimes we can’t give the care that they should have and so they get frustrated with us.”
Kaiser Permanente leadership has been negotiating with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions over a new contract for the last six months, including a “marathon effort” that went through last night into the first morning of the strike.
While the health care provider said they have yet to reach an agreement with the workers, Kaiser says that negotiators have been able to reach a number of tentative agreements in bargaining that address the union’s priorities. This includes:
- Across-the-board wage increases in all markets over the next four years.
- Updating the Performance Sharing Plan to include a minimum payout opportunity and potential for up to a $3,750 payout.
- Offering minimum wages of $23/hour in California and $21/hour in markets outside of California.
- Continuing and enhancing our existing excellent health benefits and retirement income plans.
- Renewing our strong tuition assistance and training programs, and increasing funding of the education trusts.
“Together, we have faced the toughest challenges over the past three years,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to FOX 5. “Kaiser Permanente, our industry, and our employees are now operating in a new cultural, labor, and post-pandemic environment that we are all working hard to understand. We are committed to finding workable solutions for this new environment that meet our responsibility to balance taking care of our employees and being affordable to our members.”
The health care provider also said that they have made strides towards meeting hiring goals — hitting the goal of bringing on 10,000 new union-represented employees three months ahead of the end of the year deadline.
Kaiser also added that those who urgently need to seek medical attention should continue to do so at hospitals and medical facilities in their network, adding that the “strike should not dissuade anyone from seeking necessary care.”
According to a statement from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, there are no additional bargaining sessions scheduled as of Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.
“Frontline healthcare workers are awaiting a meaningful response from Kaiser executives regarding some of our key priorities including safe staffing, outsourcing protections for incumbent healthcare workers, and fair wages to reduce turnover,” union spokesperson Caroline Lucas said. “Healthcare workers within the coalition remain ready to meet at any time.”
FOX 5’s Danielle Dawson contributed to this report.