California Kaiser workers vote to strike

Kaiser Permanente workers in California overwhelmingly supported a national strike beginning in early October against the integrated not-for-profit health system’s alleged unfair labor practices, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced Monday.

About 98% of nearly 38,000 votes cast by Kaiser employees advocated for a strike. The workers are calling for Kaiser to mend the worker-management partnership; ensure safe staffing and appropriate use of technology; and provide wages and benefits that can support families. The coalition is also calling for more financial transparency.

Strike authorization votes among other groups of California Kaiser workers as well as employees in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are slated to run through mid-September. The California faction was the first of more than 80,000 Kaiser workers to vote.

“This company should be all about providing the best possible patient care, but unfortunately its focus in recent years has been on making billions of dollars in profits and millions of dollars for Kaiser executives,” Heather Wright, a women’s health clerk at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif., said in prepared remarks.

Kaiser said in a statement that union leadership has decided to use the threat of a strike as a bargaining tactic, designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente’s position, even though most of the contracts don’t expire until October. The union also posed misleading ballot questions, the company said.

“Kaiser Permanente has presented a contract proposal that would provide annual pay increases that would keep our employees compensated higher than market averages and maintain excellent benefits,” Kaiser said in a statement, specifying that it proposed guaranteed 3% wage increases each year through 2022. “Contrary to the union’s claims, there are no pay cuts and no changes to our employees’ defined pension benefit, under our proposal.”

A strike vote does not mean that a strike is imminent, although it does place Kaiser Permanente in the position of having to spend millions of dollars preparing for the threat of a strike event, Kaiser added.

The union argues that the tax-exempt Kaiser has lost sight of its mission as executive pay rises, financial transparency wanes and the system outsources jobs.

Kaiser’s net income jumped more than 200% in the second quarter of 2019 year-over-year, hitting $2 billion in the quarter that ended June 30. It recorded a 10% profit margin.