More than 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente have started a three-day strike on Wednesday in the largest demonstration of its kind by healthcare workers in US history.
The workers, represented by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, are currently bargaining for new union contracts after their current contracts expired on 1 October. Workers are demanding significant wage increases and substantive improvements to what they say has been severe understaffing in healthcare facilities that worsened throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The strike has hit the non-profit private healthcare provider’s operations in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington DC.
Unions pointed to Kaiser Permanente’s recent profits of $3bn in the first half of 2023 and decried exorbitant salaries of executives.
“Record profits should mean record contracts that invest in workers and the patients we serve,” said Dawn Martin, a medical assistant in Battle Ground, Washington. “Kaiser executives are refusing to listen to frontline healthcare workers like me and are bargaining in bad faith over the solutions we need to end the Kaiser short-staffing crisis.”
The coalition said that in a bargaining session the summer, Kaiser Permanente claimed workers at the non-profit “make too much money” while the CEO is paid a salary of $16m a year.
“Workers across race and background are taking on Kaiser, saying it’s time to bargain in good faith and respect us, protect us and pay us the living wages we need to thrive. They’re demanding what’s necessary for patients to get the quality care they need and deserve,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which represents many of the workers.
“They are burnt out, scared for their patients and fed up. It’s time for Kaiser to act with the urgency this staffing crisis demands and to settle a fair contract that includes longterm solutions to the crisis like livable wages and benefits.”
Kaiser Permanente claimed they have been addressing staffing issues that have hit the healthcare industry as a whole and said they pay above market rates in wages.