Health care workers for Kaiser Permanente across the country began a three-day strike Wednesday in what their union says in the largest of its type in U.S. history after contract negotiations failed to produce an agreement.
The nationwide strike began at 3 a.m. on the East Coast, and strikes started at 6 a.m. in California.
According to Kaiser "several agreements over specific provisions have been reached" with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, and the health system's negotiators were prepared to meet around the clock "until we reach a fair and equitable agreement."
The union, however, continued circulating plans for picketing -- with 75,000 Kaiser workers expected to take part across California and several other states.
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"Kaiser executives are refusing to listen to us and are bargaining in bad faith over the solutions we need to end the Kaiser short-staffing crisis," Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center -- one of the planned picket locations -- said in a statement released by the union Monday.
"I see my patients' frustrations when I have to rush them and hurry on to my next patient. That's not the care I want to give. We're burning ourselves out trying to do the jobs of two or three people, and our patients suffer when they can't get the care they need due to Kaiser's short-staffing."
Kaiser issued a statement Wednesday reading:
"Both Kaiser Permanente management and Coalition union representatives are still at the bargaining table, having worked through the night in an effort to reach an agreement. There has been a lot of progress, with agreements reached on several specific proposals late Tuesday. We remain committed to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages, excellent benefits, generous retirement income plans, and valuable professional development opportunities.
Kaiser Permanente health care employees, joined by Union members representing the workers, walk the picket line in Los Angeles during the start of a three-day strike on October 4, 2023. More than 75,000 employees at Kaiser Permanente began one of the largest healthcare worker strikes in recent US history on Wednesday after failing to resolve a dispute over staffing levels. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
It’s our responsibility to continue to balance taking care of our employees and being more affordable to our patients, members and communities. Wages and benefits make up about half the cost of health care in America, so we all need to work together on that critical goal.
As noted in a recent report from the American Hospital Association, rising inflation has led to health care experiencing a "massive surge" in expenses driven by drugs and supplies, equipment shortages, staffing costs and supply chain disruptions. At the same time, in the wake of the pandemic, demand for care has increased dramatically, as people come in for care that has been delayed. Kaiser Permanente is not immune to these inflationary pressures."
On Monday, Kaiser officials said a strike "is not inevitable and it is certainly not justified. Our goal is to reach a fair and equitable agreement that strengthens Kaiser Permanente as a best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access."
Additional picketing is taing place at Kaiser facilities in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., according to the union coalition.
The workers' contract expired Saturday, but bargaining continued over the weekend and again Monday and Tuesday.
Among the workers involved in a strike would be licensed vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, radiology technicians, ultrasound sonographers, teleservice representatives, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, certified nursing assistants, dietary services, behavioral health workers, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians, transporters, home health aides, phlebotomists and medical assistants, union officials said.
The union has accused Kaiser of cutting performance bonuses for employees, failing to protect employees against subcontracting, offering wages that fail to keep pace with inflation and falling short in efforts to maintain adequate staffing levels.
According to Kaiser, the company is offering "across the board wage increases," with a minimum wage starting at $21 an hour. The health care provider denied allegations it is slashing performance bonuses and raising premiums for members without any relation to health care costs or improvements in care.
"In Southern California, where our wages significantly exceed market levels, we are offering wage increases of 10% over four years plus lump sum bonuses of 4%, to keep our employees well compensated," according to Kaiser.
In its statement Monday, Kaiser stated that the company has "plans in place to ensure we can continue to provide high-quality care should a strike actually occur this week."