A coalition of unionized Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers delivered a 10-day strike notice to the nonprofit healthcare provider, threatening a three-day work stoppage Oct. 4 through Oct. 6 if they don’t reach a deal before the end of the month.
More than 75,000 Kaiser workers in California and other states plan to join the “the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history” if it comes to that, a news release Friday from the coalition said.
This is also the plan for Fresno’s Kaiser facilities, local union members told Fresnoland.
“Just a very short couple of years ago, we were heroes to Kaiser,” said Jessica Armiento, a respiratory therapist at Kaiser’s hospital in Fresno. “We worked so many hours, especially in our department, the respiratory department.”
“Now we’re not … we went from being heroes to being a nuisance.”
Armiento and roughly 1,500 workers at Kaiser’s Fresno Medical Center and multiple offices around the county plan to join the potential Kaiser strike next month.
Locally, the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West covers respiratory therapists, lab technicians, cooking staff, housekeepers, and other healthcare workers at Kaiser’s Fresno facilities.
In a statement issued Friday, Sept. 25, Kaiser Permanente responded that the “strike notice does not mean a strike will happen,” and said it will continue to bargain in good faith until a “fair and equitable agreement” is reached.
“The Coalition unions are positioned to strike in October,” the statement reads. “However, for the last 26 years of our historic labor-management partnership, we have reached agreements with the Coalition every time, with no strikes.”
Kaiser added that it has “plans in place” to ensure they continue to provide care in the event of a work stoppage.
What Kaiser Employees Are Seeking
The coalition is fighting for better wages to combat what they describe as a staffing crisis. One of their proposals includes a $26 per hour minimum wage within Kaiser.
The healthcare giant has countered that this proposal “would not reflect market labor costs” between the different cities where it pays workers.
In Friday’s statement, Kaiser touted recent hiring data – the filling of 9,700 union-represented jobs this year – as evidence they’re living up to a shared goal with the coalition of hiring 10,000 new people in 2023.
Despite that, workers like Armiento say they continue to feel the effects of staffing shortages – and that it’s even affecting their ability to diagnose serious conditions like lung cancer.
“There’s times that we don’t have enough staff – or trained staff – that these procedures have to be canceled. They’re obviously time-sensitive,” she said, “and if they’re canceled, we’re not diagnosing someone or giving them a stage in a timely manner.”
About the Author
Julianna Morano is the labor and economy reporter at Fresnoland.
Fresnoland is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to making policy public.