Kaiser Strike: Healthcare workers at hundreds of Kaiser Permanente hospitals and medical facilities across the United States walked off the job on Wednesday morning. The nation’s largest healthcare nonprofit organization went on strike in an effort to increase pressure on their employer to address a staffing shortage that has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, the work interruption is the largest healthcare strike in US history. Over 75,000 workers went on strike in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., including vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, radiology technicians, X-ray technicians, medical assistants, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and hundreds more.
Kaiser Permanente serves nearly 13 million patients across eight states and the District of Columbia, with 39 hospitals and over 600 medical offices. The majority of Kaiser workers who have walked off the job will be on strike for three days, until Saturday morning, except those in Virginia and Washington, D.C., who will be on strike for 24 hours.
What are the major labor issues?
The coronavirus pandemic worsened staffing shortages, which even Kaiser officials acknowledged. Patients and workers have had to contend with fewer nurses, aides, and support personnel. Unions representing Kaiser employees are demanding long-term investments to address a staffing shortage, as well as higher pay and benefits.
The Kaiser Permanente strike is the third major organized labor action this year, as inflation and a labor shortage have heightened tensions over pay, benefits, and staffing. According to Caroline Lucas, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, the staffing crisis has resulted in unsafe working conditions and deteriorating patient care.
The union had sought a $25 hourly minimum wage and additional increases over the next few years in a proposed four-year contract. Kaiser had responded with a minimum hourly wage of $21 to $23 per hour starting next year, increasing by a dollar per year. It proposed that salaries vary depending on location. However, negotiations between Kaiser executives and employees are still ongoing.
How will the Kaiser strike affect patients?
Kaiser previously stated that “a strike should not dissuade anyone from seeking necessary care.” However, the walkouts may cause delays in a variety of services, including lab tests, imaging, and prescription filling. The Kaiser Union has stated that it has contingency plans in place to ensure that patients continue to receive care during a strike. According to the company, all hospitals and emergency departments will remain open.
The healthcare provider has stated that its hospitals and emergency rooms will remain open during the strike, staffed by physicians and other personnel. It stated that it is recruiting professionals to serve in critical care roles during the strike.
Non-emergency and elective services may be rescheduled, according to Kaiser. The organization is expanding its pharmacy network to include community pharmacies to ensure patients have access to medication if outpatient pharmacies are temporarily closed. Kaiser hospitals’ inpatient pharmacies will remain open.
However, patients may feel the effects of the strike in other ways, such as less frequent cleaning of hospital rooms, and outside workers brought in to assist Kaiser may not be as familiar with how a facility operates.
Where did Kaiser employees go on strike?
Kaiser Permanente has 39 hospitals and over 600 medical offices in eight states and the District of Columbia. Since the health system is based in California, the majority of the striking employees are there. The system manages nearly all of the state’s hospitals, as well as more than 500 medical buildings.
According to Kaiser officials, there are no strikes in Georgia, Maryland, or Hawaii, and there have been few walkouts in Washington State. Only chemists and optometrists in Virginia and the District of Columbia participated on Wednesday, and they were anticipated to return to work after a day off.
How long is the Kaiser strike expected to last?
Except for Virginia and the District of Columbia, the strike began on Wednesday morning and is expected to last until Saturday morning. The two sides were still negotiating on Wednesday, so a deal could be reached before then.