More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers across the United States have started to walk off the job on Wednesday, October 4, 2023. This is the largest health care worker strike in US history, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the majority of the striking workers.
The workers include nursing staff, X-ray technicians, pharmacists, lab scientists, social workers, and other health care professionals. They are demanding higher wages, better staffing levels, and more protection from burnout and violence.
The strike is expected to last for four days, from October 4 to October 7. It will affect Kaiser Permanente facilities in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, and Washington DC.
Kaiser Permanente says it has offered fair and competitive proposals
Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health providers, said it has offered fair and competitive proposals to the unions that would ensure its workers remain among the best paid in the industry.
The company said it has proposed annual wage increases of 3% for three years in California and 2% plus a 1.5% lump sum payment for three years in other regions.
Kaiser Permanente also said it has invested in hiring more staff, expanding mental health services, and enhancing safety measures for its workers and patients.
The company said it regrets any inconvenience or disruption that the strike may cause to its members and patients. It said it has contingency plans in place to ensure continuity of care and quality of service.
Workers say Kaiser Permanente’s proposals are inadequate
The striking workers say Kaiser Permanente’s proposals are inadequate and do not address the root causes of the problems they face. They say they are struggling with understaffing, excessive workloads, low morale, and high turnover.
The workers say they want Kaiser Permanente to commit to hiring more staff, reducing outsourcing and subcontracting, providing adequate training and equipment, and improving wages and benefits to retain and attract qualified workers.
The workers also say they want Kaiser Permanente to respect their right to unionize and bargain collectively. They accuse the company of engaging in unfair labor practices, such as interfering with union activities, intimidating workers, and withholding information.
The strike comes amid a nationwide crisis in health care
The strike comes amid a nationwide crisis in health care, as the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the challenges faced by health care workers and systems. The US has recorded more than 50 million cases and over 900,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Health care workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic response, risking their lives and health to care for patients. Many have suffered from physical and mental exhaustion, trauma, infection, and death.
Health care workers have also been facing a shortage of staff, supplies, and resources. According to a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), more than 40% of US hospitals reported having critical staffing shortages in September 2023.
The strike by Kaiser Permanente workers is a sign of the growing discontent and frustration among health care workers who feel overworked, underpaid, and undervalued.