Pending Kaiser Permanente strike: 5 things to know

Health care provider says service will continue; physicians, registered nurses not part of expected strike

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A few thousand Kaiser Permanente workers in Colorado may join tens of thousands nationwide in an October strike that a union says is a push for fair negotiation and wage increases that keep up with the cost of living.

“Kaiser has strayed too far from its mission — instead of prioritizing quality patient care and the workers who help provide it, they have shifted their focus to maximizing profits for their executives,” said Patricia Johnson-Gibson, a health care vice president at Service Employees International Union Local 105, the union's Colorado branch.

Colorado workers voted to join a seven-day strike beginning Oct. 14, following what the union said is a lack of progress in talks.

But Kaiser Permanente Colorado argued that a strike isn't set in stone and that Kaiser's offer to employees includes “solid wage increases” and other benefits.

“This is a corporate campaign designed to leverage themselves better at the bargaining table,” said Nick Roper, a spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

Here's a look at what led to the strike, when it might end and how it might affect Coloradans' health care service.

What led to this point?

Kaiser and the SEIU Local 105 union had been working toward an agreement as part of national negotiations with the coalition of Kaiser workers' unions that began in April, according to a Kaiser statement.

In late August and early September, Kaiser workers in Colorado voted on whether to strike. Of the more than 3,000 Kaiser workers in the local union, 62% voted, and out of those, 96% of voted to approve a strike.

A strike needed at least a majority of the union's membership to vote “yes,” said David Fernandez, spokesperson for Local 105.

Who might strike?

More than 80,000 Kaiser workers in six states and the District of Columbia are members of the coalition of unions in negotiations with Kaiser.

Medical assistants, licensed practical nurses, pharmacy technicians, medical technicians, and administrative and support staff, among other positions, are among those who may strike, according to Fernandez.

Physicians and registered nurses are generally not expected to strike, Roper said. Mental health workers are not part of this strike, according to Steve Trossman, a union spokesperson.

Will service be interrupted?

Kaiser will “continue to care for our members in the event of a strike and have strong plans in place,” Roper said.

About 1,200 Kaiser physicians and another 3,200 Kaiser workers aren't part of the current negotiations and aren't expected to strike, according to Roper.

There are “thousands of other staff who we can rely on,” but “we hope it doesn't come to that point,” Roper said.

Why strike?

Patients are dealing with longer wait times during visits and when receiving results due to Kaiser's outsourcing and job reductions, Fernandez said.

The unions object to Kaiser's raise of CEO pay and cutting positions, outsourcing and automating away jobs, according to Fernandez.

“Kaiser Permanente sets senior management compensation levels that allow us to successfully attract and retain the leadership we need to deliver affordable, high-quality health care,” the company's website says on a page that responded to criticisms.

Regarding jobs, Kaiser argues it is “growing and adding jobs overall,” the site says.

In December, the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser with failing to negotiate in good faith, according to a union news release.

The board is a federal agency that protects employees' rights to join together to improve their wages and working conditions, according to its website. Charging is only one step in a case's process, and a result has not yet been issued, according to Fernandez.

When might a strike end?

The strike is set to last a week, and another vote by union members would have to take place to either extend that or choose additional strike dates. 

By law, health care workers must give a 10-day notice before a strike, Fernandez said.

That notice hadn't yet been given as of Sept. 18, Roper said.

“We are having ongoing discussions with SEIU and hope to have a resolution soon,” Roper said.

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