California

80,000 Kaiser workers plan 7-day strike that will affect California, 5 other states

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced late Monday their roughly 80,000 workers will walk off their jobs as part of a seven-day strike beginning Oct. 14 in California, five other states and the District of Columbia.

“We believe the only way to ensure our patients get the best care is to take this step,” said Eric Jines, a radiologic technologist at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. “Our goal is to get Kaiser to stop committing unfair labor practices and get back on track as the best place to work and get care. There is no reason for Kaiser to let a strike happen when it has the resources to invest in patients, communities and workers.”

Patients will see picket lines at Kaiser Permanente hospital, medical office buildings and other facilities in California as well as in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions came together in the 1990s as a way to end devastating strikes that threatened to cripple the company and make it less competitive.

In a telephone interview Monday, Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson said he was there when the coalition was formed and was committed to trying to maintain it. But about two years ago, the coalition began crumbling as union leaders disagreed over the strategy to use with the Oakland-based company.

Nine of the 12 unions severed their relationships with the coalition, he said, creating their own partnership group known as the Alliance of Health Care Unions. That group reached a labor contract with the company in October 2018. Their membership includes more than 49,000 Kaiser workers.

“We have a wonderful agreement that works for them and works for us,” Tyson said. “It works for our employees and it works for our affordability agenda for our members and customers.”

Tyson said Kaiser has maintained conversations with Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and the two other unions in the coalition, hoping to continue the partnership and negotiate a fair and equitable agreement.

However, Tyson said, SEIU-UHW leader Dave Regan doesn’t see the dispute resolution process that has long been in place with the coalition as aggressive enough. Tyson said Regan has been using ballot initiatives and legislation to pressure Kaiser to give the coalition a better deal than the nine unions in the alliance.

The coalition unions say they want Kaiser to restore a true worker-management partnership, ensure safe staffing, work to ensure there is enough staff to meet future demand and protect middle-class jobs.

The coalition includes unions representing optometrists, clinical laboratory scientists, respiratory and x-ray technicians, licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians, phlebotomists, medical assistants, housekeepers and more. Their contract expired in September 2018.

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.
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