The largest health care strike in US history is now in its third, and final, day.
The temporary work stoppage will end at 6 am Pacific Time on Saturday morning, concluding a massive labor effort involving more than 75,000 health care workers and spanning four states.
Picketers across California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington who are represented by a coalition of unions walked off the job Wednesday. They are seeking higher wages and solutions to a short-staffing crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic, that has left workers feeling overburdened and run down. Nearly 200 workers from Kaiser facilities in Virginia and Washington, DC, joined the picket lines for a single day on Wednesday, as well. The striking workers include nursing staff, lab technicians, receptionists among other medical staff.
Although the unions and Kaiser have scheduled bargaining sessions for the end of next week, the coalition of unions said it could issue a 10-day warning after Saturday that could kick off another round of strikes in a couple weeks “if Kaiser executives continue to commit unfair labor practices and bargain in bad faith.”
Unions and management disagree on wages
Kaiser Permanente, which is one of the largest nonprofit health plans in the US, has argued that the labor shortage has impacted the entire health care industry. Kaiser said it has agreed to do “aggressive work” to hire more staff members and said it has hired 10,086 people in union-represented jobs so far this year.
But some picketers have cautioned that a portion of those hires were internal employees who shifted roles. They say more needs to be done to address a staffing shortage that the union has called “unsafe.”
The coalition of unions has also argued that raising employee pay will attract workers.
Kaiser Permanente offered wage increases of 5% in the first three years of a new contract, and a 4% raise in the final year to all unionized employees. The coalition has not accepted the offer, asking for a 6.5% increase in the first two years of the contract, and a 5.75% increase in the final two years.
Kaiser has also not agreed to the union’s demand to raise minimum pay to $24 per hour for all unionized employees in 2024.
A spokesperson for Kaiser said the coalition and management have reached tentative agreements on some other issues involving remote workers and tracking staffing vacancies.
Although Kaiser Permanente said it has contingency plans to ensure patients receive care during the strike, some have told CNN they’ve felt the impact of the strike.
Jennifer Fry, a 43-year-old Kaiser patient in Vacaville, California, had an ultrasound appointment to confirm whether her pregnancy was viable rescheduled from Thursday. Though the appointment was pushed to Monday, Fry said she felt “pretty disappointed” that she would have to wait to confirm her pregnancy.
“I was definitely trying to work an angle, and if I’m being honest, I actually did look and see if there was a way to do a private ultrasound outside of my insurance,” she said. “I was so looking forward to it.”
Another patient told CNN she felt guilt crossing the picket line in front of a Kaiser hospital, even though it was for an emergency.
“You want to just try to respect that but at the same time you’re in an emergency situation, so you have to choose also your health,” said Larriesha Malbrough, a Kaiser patient. “I cried when I walked into the threshold of the hospital, like I teared up and I cried. I felt bad and I even told the personnel there ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’”