Kaiser unions are preparing to conduct a possible seven-day strike at the private, nonprofit’s medical facilities beginning Oct. 14.
The three affected unions, united as the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), have the power to call 80,000 workers off the job in California and six other states. Nine other unions have already signed contracts with Kaiser.
A SEIU news release says that more than 550 Kaiser workers would be affected in Livermore and Pleasanton, and more than 24,000 employees in the Bay Area. Affected positions include surgical, pharmacy and x-ray technicians, medical assistants, housekeepers, licensed vocational nurses, and optometrists. Kaiser doctors have their own organization and would not be affected.
Kaiser officials said they have plans in place to ensure patient care isn’t disrupted.
Members of the three affected unions voted at various facilities over several weeks overwhelmingly in favor of a strike, with 37,000 in favor, 98% of the votes cast. SEIU’s list of demands includes restoring a “true worker-management partnership and middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families.”
It also wants executives’ salaries reduced and a more transparent set of books, so patients and workers can see where money can be found to invest back into patient care, especially for lower-income people.
Fiscal transparency for the for-profit hospitals and doctors’ offices is stricter. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 343 on Sept. 5, which will help provide more transparency of Kaiser’s books by imposing some of the same regulations that for-profits have had to meet.
SEIU must give 10 days’ notice to Kaiser before they can strike. They said the strike would be the nation’s largest since a Teamsters strike against United Parcel Service in 1997, when 185,000 employees went out. It lasted for 16 days.
SEIU claims that one motivator for their strike involves a finding by the National Labor Relations Board that Kaiser management failed to bargain in good faith. But A Kaiser spokesman said the SEIU is incorrect, and that while the NLRB will investigate to see if there were evidence of unfair labor practices, it has not done the work on it yet, nor has it reached any conclusions.
Leaders at Kaiser stated that they are ready to take necessary steps to adapt to the threatened strike and to continue patient services. Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson said in an online statement that “we will continue to engage with the coalition, led by SEIU-UHW’s leadership, at the bargaining table, and I hope we will not have a strike on Oct. 14.”
“However, please know that we are also preparing to deal with all scenarios to make sure our members and patients continue to receive the service and the care they deserve,” Tyson said.
Tyson added that the strike announcement is a negotiating tactic. He said that there was a coalition of 12 unions that represent Kaiser employees, but nine of them broke away, formed the Alliance of Health Care Unions (AHCU), and negotiated new contracts. The other three unions decided to follow new leadership, whom management said has adopted a more aggressive posture in the talks.
Tyson said the contracts signed with the AHCU “keep our Kaiser employees among the best paid in wages and benefits in the entire industry.”
Kaiser is a private nonprofit, and enjoys tax breaks worth billions of dollars, the union claims. SEIU points out that Kaiser pays Tyson $16 million a year, and at least 36 executives earn $1 million dollars or more per year.
California politicians have endorsed the strike call. Among them were U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, 16 U.S. representatives, 22 state senators, and 48 assembly members. The names of Valley elected officials, state Sen. Steve Glazer, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, and U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, all Democrats, do not appear on the supporters list sent out by the unions.
Kaiser has locations in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.