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Kaiser Permanente: Should patients be worried as over 75,000 healthcare workers go on strike?

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People hold placards, as a coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions representing 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente starts a three-day strike across the United States over a new contract, in San Diego, California, US October 4, 2023.—Reuters 

Approximately 75,000 healthcare workers initiated a planned three-day strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities throughout the United States on Wednesday, marking the largest-ever such action in the healthcare sector.

The striking workforce comprises nurses, medical technicians, and various support staff situated at numerous hospitals across California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington DC Kaiser Permanente. 

Healthcare workers strike in front of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, as more than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers go on strike from October 4 to 7 across the United States, in Los Angeles, California, US October 4, 2023.—Reuters
Healthcare workers strike in front of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, as more than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers go on strike from October 4 to 7 across the United States, in Los Angeles, California, US October 4, 2023.—Reuters 

Kaiser Permanente, which is a prominent not-for-profit healthcare network and managed-care organisation, stated that hospitals and emergency departments would remain operational, with the presence of doctors, managers, and contingency workers.

The coalition of unions representing these workers alleges that Kaiser has failed to address an ongoing staffing shortage, leaving employees feeling overburdened and inadequately compensated. Presently, the strike is slated to last for three days, and negotiations between the company and the union are ongoing following the expiration of the previous contract on September 30.

Healthcare workers on strike gather, as a coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions representing 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente start a three day strike across the United States over a new contract, in San Diego, California, US October 4, 2023.—Reuters
Healthcare workers on strike gather, as a coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions representing 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente start a three day strike across the United States over a new contract, in San Diego, California, US October 4, 2023.—Reuters

Christina Andersen, a phlebotomist with 12 years of experience at Kaiser Permanente’s Indian Hill clinic in Claremont, California, asserted, “Kaiser executives can end this strike today if they would just bargain in good faith with frontline healthcare workers and end the Kaiser short-staffing crisis, and that’s for the safety of our patients and for healthcare workers.”

In recent years, labour unions across the United States have become more assertive in their demands for higher wages and improved benefits to combat the erosion of their purchasing power due to rising living costs. This year has already witnessed a surge in strike activity, the most significant since 2019, with the potential for further escalation as hospitality workers in Las Vegas contemplate action against casinos and auto workers consider intensifying their strike against Detroit’s major automakers.

Michael LeRoy, a labour law professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, noted, “For the health industry in particular, I think this signifies the unions’ resolve to get proper staffing. The reality is that we’re in a new era of higher strike activity.” The largest healthcare sector work stoppage involved 53,000 workers in 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The coalition, comprising eight unions representing nurses, technicians, and support staff, insists that Kaiser must hire 10,000 new healthcare workers to address current vacancies. While another strike may loom on the horizon, Andersen emphasised, “At this point, we’re just focusing on the next three days.”

In Virginia and Washington, DC, only optometrists and pharmacists are participating in the strike, but its impact on patients in California, Colorado, Oregon, and parts of southwestern Washington state is expected to be more significant, as confirmed by a Kaiser spokeswoman.

“Both Kaiser Permanente management and coalition union representatives are still at the bargaining table, having worked through the night in an effort to reach an agreement,” Kaiser stated in a Wednesday announcement. Nationwide, Kaiser employs 68,000 nurses, 213,000 technicians, clerical workers, and administrative staff, in addition to its 24,000 doctors.

According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 309,700 workers have been involved in work stoppages through August this year.



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