Kaiser workers vote to approve strike

By Sheri Williams

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West members in California voted in August to approve a strike.

If the October strike happens, it would be the largest such labor action in the U.S. in more than 20 years.

“Kaiser Permanente has lost its way. They’ve abandoned their mission to serve our communities in favor of earning massive profits and enriching top executives. Kaiser executives are demanding unprecedented cuts to caregivers’ pay and benefits while raising rates on patients and undermining quality healthcare,” said SEIU-UHW in a statement. “Kaiser is making record profits and gave the CEO a 60 percent raise to $16 million a year. But when it comes to us, the healthcare workers who help patients thrive, Kaiser is bargaining in bad faith and demanding unprecedented cuts in our next contract.”

Kaiser employees have been working with an expired national contract since September. Ninety-eight percent of the 37,000 union members who cast ballots voted in favor of authorizing a strike. Kaiser, based in Oakland, is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health care providers. It has more than 12 million members and generated about $2.5 billion in net income last year, according to media reports. A union analysis found that Kaiser has 36 executives who each make more than a million dollars a year, a far higher percentage than other health plans.

“This strike vote is about stopping Kaiser’s unfair labor practices,” Heather Wright, a women’s health clerk at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, California, said in a statement from the union, Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW). “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.”

Kaiser mental health workers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, are in a separate labor dispute with the healthcare giant. In July, those union sisters and brothers voted to reject Kaiser’s offer, which failed to meet many basic bargaining positions – including patient safety proposals.

“Kaiser has never been more stable economically, but they continue to treat mental health as second-class,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, in media reports. Rosselli said a strike by his union to coincide with the Ocober SEIU-UHW action is possible.