SAN DIEGO – The largest health care worker strike in U.S. history could be getting started Wednesday morning if a deal is not reached between Kaiser Permanente and its coalition of unions.
More than 75,000 Kaiser workers across multiple states are set to hit the picket lines, including nearly 5,000 locally in San Diego.
“Ready to go and ready to show the community that we care for them and show our patients that we care for them,” said Michael Ramey, ultrasound technician at Kaiser and President of OPEIU Local 30.
Kaiser employees like Ramey had their local union shirts on Tuesday and their cars loaded with signs and supplies, prepared for a potential three-day strike.
“Calling on Kaiser to put patient care over profit and for them to make the necessary investments to invest in the workforce,” said Ezequiel Diaz, an account administrative representative for Kaiser.
The biggest issues for Kaiser health care workers come down to what they consider unfair labor practices and unsafe staffing levels.
“Staffing issues are critical. They are at crisis level and that was taking place before March 2020,” Ramey said.
In a lengthy written statement, Kaiser acknowledges health care staffing shortages and feelings of burnout are an issue across the nation.
“Across the country, people working in health care during the pandemic and in its aftermath have faced the toughest challenges that anyone has had to deal with. Health care is still under great stress. More than 5 million people have left their health care jobs and burnout is at record highs,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser also claims to lead the market in compensation, including Southern California where Kaiser says employees are paid an average of 20% more than competitors.
Still, Kaiser employees stand by the feeling profits are being put over patient care.
“Kaiser is a not-for-profit health care organization, but yet they have had profits in the first two quarters that exceed $3 billion, they have over $60 billion in net assets, over $113 billion in global investments. I don’t understand why some of those investments aren’t being geared towards the patients in our communities that we care for,” Ramey said.
This strike will last Wednesday through Friday for 12 hours each day. It affects jobs such as licensed vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, pharmacists, call center representatives, among hundreds of other positions.
Kaiser has brought in temporary workers to fill the vacant positions in the coming days.
Here is what Kaiser officials had to say about whether the strike would affect patient care:
“Should a strike occur, our hospitals and emergency departments will remain open.
Our plans ensure that the urgent needs of our members and patients are the top priority. We will contact members affected by any necessary changes in our services during this strike. This could include:
- Onboarding professionals contracted to serve in critical care roles specifically for the duration of a strike.
- Rescheduling non-emergency and elective services in some locations out of an abundance of caution.
- Expanding Kaiser Permanente’s network of pharmacy locations to include community pharmacies that can serve our members during a strike and mitigate any closure of our outpatient pharmacies. The inpatient pharmacies serving our hospitals will remain open.”