More than 75,000 health care professionals, including nurses, emergency room technicians, and pharmacists, embarked on a historic strike Wednesday at numerous Kaiser Permanente hospitals and medical facilities throughout the United States.
This monumental labor action, spanning California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., was sparked by a staffing crisis that has grown increasingly dire after the COVID-19 pandemic. NPR reported that, according to the unions representing the workers, the strike is the largest health care labor protest in American history.
Based in Oakland, California, Kaiser Permanente is a prominent nonprofit health care institution that caters to the needs of nearly 13 million people nationwide.
The strike is set to continue for three days, concluding Saturday morning. Workers in Virginia and Washington, D.C., will stage a 24-hour strike.
Kaiser Permanente has affirmed its commitment to maintaining operational continuity during this labor unrest, ensuring its hospitals and emergency rooms remain open. The institution has mobilized physicians and supplementary staff to sustain essential health care services. It has taken measures to onboard professionals who will assume critical care responsibilities during the strike.
The unions have accused Kaiser of unfair labor practices by allegedly refusing to engage in bona fide negotiations to address the staffing challenges.
"Health care workers choose this profession because it's a passion for them. It's a calling," Caroline Lucas, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, told NPR. "And folks don't feel comfortable staying at jobs where they don't feel like they can give the best patient care possible."
Employees such as Brooke El-Amin, who has worked at Kaiser for 21 years, said the strike's goal is to put pressure on Kaiser to improve patient care in the long run.
"I don't want to strike," El-Amin told NPR. "But I feel like Kaiser is already letting down our patients — they're already letting down the employees."
The walkout aims to address harsh working conditions, staff retention challenges, and declining quality of patient care. As of April, Kaiser data obtained by unions reveals an 11% vacancy rate in union positions.
Kaiser executive Michelle Gaskill-Hames, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of Southern California and Hawaii, defended the company, telling the Daily Mail its practices, compensation, and employee retention measures surpass those of its competitors despite the shared challenges encountered across the health care sector.
"Our focus, for the dollars that we bring in, are to keep them invested in value-based care," she said.
The collective bargaining agreement for employees, under the coalition of unions, expired Sept. 30 without a new deal. On Monday, the Daily Mail reported a tentative agreement was reached, offering a 40% increase to an education fund to support additional training, according to the SEIU-UHW union in California.
However, the coalition is pressing for a nearly 25% pay raise for all members and improved benefits, such as medical coverage for retirees.
Jim Thomas is a writer based in Indiana. He holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, a law degree from U.I.C. Law School, and has practiced law for more than 20 years.
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