By Kelly Gooch of Beckers Hospital Review
Kaiser Permanente workers in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland have joined workers in other states in voting to authorize a strike.
The Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2 said in a news release that members at Kaiser voted to authorize a strike by a margin of 98 percent if no agreement is reached by Sept. 30. This comes after Service Employees International Union members in Colorado, California, Oregon and Southwest Washington voted to authorize a strike at Kaiser in the past two weeks.
Some unionized workers at Kaiser facilities are still voting on possible strike authorization, with voting by additional union members in California concluding on Sept. 20, according to the release. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser is currently bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents more than 85,000 workers at Kaiser facilities in California, Colorado, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington.
If Kaiser workers end up striking, it could be the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history, union representatives estimate.
Union members contend that Kaiser is not properly addressing their priorities, including staffing and patient care. They also expressed concerns about workers' ability to keep up with the cost of living, said management proposals related to pay and workforce development would make the staffing crisis worse, and argued that Kaiser has not bargained in good faith.
"We've been raising the alarm about patient safety, but Kaiser isn't hearing us. Kaiser executives keep refusing to listen to frontline healthcare workers on the issues that impact the care of our patients, and they're violating the law by failing to bargain in good faith," Katrina Schaetz, OB-GYN clinical assistant, said in the OPEIU release. "We are standing up for more staff and better patient care. If Kaiser doesn't stop committing unfair labor practices, healthcare workers are prepared to go on strike."
Becker's has reached out to Kaiser and will update this story if additional information becomes available.
Kaiser said in a statement shared with Becker's last week that it "is a leader in employee wages and benefits in every market we are in. In bargaining this year, we are offering across-the-board wage increases, an enterprise wide minimum wage starting at $21 an hour, continuing our existing excellent health benefits and retirement income plans, and much more. These and our other operational proposals reflect our deep commitment to the economic well-being of our employees."
Kaiser refuted some of union members' claims in its statement, noting that the pay increases it has offered during bargaining sessions will put all Kaiser union members above market rates in their respective regions. The health system also pointed to the recruitment and workforce development efforts it has made, including investment in several education and training programs, tuition reimbursement programs, and coaching services for employees.
Kaiser also said it is committed to reaching an agreement "that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits," and is confident an agreement will be reached by the contract expiration date.