Across five states and Washington, D.C., a labor contract expiration deadline is rapidly approaching, which could lead to the largest health care strike in the history of the United States.
Thousands Ready to Strike
As Saturday's 11:59 pm PT deadline nears, more than 75,000 health care professionals employed at numerous Kaiser Permanente facilities are gearing up to go on strike from October 4th through the 7th.
This impending action stems from the expiration of their labor contract and a subsequent failure to establish a new deal. These workers hail from a range of states including California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia.
They are members of a powerful coalition made up of eight unions and occupy diverse roles from nursing assistants and x-ray technicians to pharmacists and optometrists. Renee Saldana, spokesperson for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare (SEIU-UHW)—the coalition's largest union—notes that they constitute approximately 40% of Kaiser Permanente’s entire workforce.
Negotiation Status and Company Response
In response to this looming crisis, Hilary Costa, representing Kaiser Permanente, conveyed to CNN that while some progress has been made in the ongoing negotiations, it remains crucial for workers to reconsider calls for a strike.
She added, “While a strike threat is disappointing, it does not necessarily mean a strike will happen”. Costa emphasized Kaiser's commitment to ensuring consistent high-quality care, hinting at contingency plans already in place should the strike move forward.
Workers' Concerns: A Cry for Fair Treatment
The reasons behind the strike aren't merely contractual. The coalition's demands encompass across-the-board pay raises to counteract the escalating cost of living. They also include protective measures against job loss due to outsourcing, updates to retiree medical benefits, and a comprehensive strategy from Kaiser Permanente to tackle a staffing "crisis" that has left many employees feeling overwhelmed.
This profound sense of vulnerability and duress among the workers is palpable. As articulated by Saldana, the trauma of navigating the worst global health crisis in recent memory has been compounded by acute financial concerns. “They’re worried about paying rent, they’re worried about losing their house, they’re worried about living in their cars,” she lamented.
It remains to be seen whether a resolution can be reached in time to avert the strike. Yet, the potential impact on patient care and the broader U.S. health care system is undeniable, underscoring the urgency of the situation.