By MALLORY GRUBEN
Workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in seven states and Washington D.C. participated in a nationwide strike authorization vote Aug. 28 through Sept. 16. SEIU Local 49, which represents about 4,500 technicians and hospital support staff at Kaiser facilities in Oregon, tallied its members’ votes on Sept. 13, after this issue went to press. SEIU Local 105, a union representing 3,000 Kaiser workers in Colorado, passed its strike vote with 99% approval. Other results were not available by press time.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions called for the strike vote on Aug. 24. The group serves as the bargaining representative on the national Kaiser contract covering nearly 88,000 Kaiser employees in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. Coalition members include Oregon-based SEIU Local 49 and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, and Washington-based SEIU Local 1199NW and Office of Professional Employees International Union Local 8.
The national contract for those workers expires Sept. 30. If workers authorize a strike, they could walk out after that point.
Kaiser Permanente is one of America’s leading health care providers. In its 2021 annual report, the latest released, it reported serving more than 12 million patients and $8.1 billion in net income. In a Sept. 7 bargaining update to workers, Kaiser asked members to reject a walkout.
“A strike authorization vote would be a disappointing action considering our progress at the bargaining table. It would not reflect our joint commitment to reaching an agreement that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits,” Kaiser wrote.
The coalition and Kaiser started bargaining in April. The unions asked the health care chain to commit to hiring 10,000 new workers to address staffing shortages. They also asked for raises that keep up with inflation; their latest proposal would provide a 26.5% boost over four years, according to bargaining updates. On Sept. 7, Kaiser made a proposal that would bring the minimum wage for all coalition-represented members to $21 an hour by 2026. But it gave workers different raises based on where they worked. For example, workers at most Washington locations would see wages rise 14% over four years, while workers in Southwest Washington and Oregon would get a boost of 11%.
“This is just the beginning of Kaiser’s divide-and-conquer strategy,” the coalition wrote in an update to members. “If we let them get away with attacking some members with lower raises now, we will never know who might be on the chopping block next time.”
The next national bargaining session is scheduled for Sept. 21 and 22.