After almost two years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the unsafe working conditions, the emotional burden, the lack of support from management, and months of negotiations that are not going anywhere, over thirty thousand Kaiser Permanente workers in Southern California and Oregon have voted to go on strike.
Members of three of the largest unions in what is known as the Alliance of Health Care Unions at Kaiser, have voted to go on an unlimited strike starting November 15th. The number of people involved in this strike vote amount to over 37% of the workforce in that region, and the sheer number of strikers would make this the largest strike in the U.S. this year.
The decision to strike follows months of negotiations during which Kaiser has refused to accept the unions’ proposal for a 12% wage increase over 3 years and has instead proposed a 2-tier wage system. This 2-tier system would lead newer staff to start on a lower wage than current staff, leading to divisions in the workforce. And this would likely make it less appealing for candidates to apply, further perpetuating the understaffing crisis in healthcare.
Kaiser excuses its behavior by arguing that the high cost of wages and benefits are leading them to increase the prices for their services, but Kaiser made $2.2 billion dollars in operating revenue in 2020 and its main source of income, the membership, has consistently increased. Kaiser is by no means running on a deficit, in fact they have over $44 billion in cash reserves.
The truth is plain and simple; there is no reason for Kaiser to deny the wage increase demands other than to continue to extract more out of the workers to fatten the company’s profits. But the 36,000 members of the Alliance who have voted to strike, as well as the Local 39 Engineers striking in Northern California have decided not to let Kaiser get away with it and instead are fighting back.