Mental health workers and Kaiser Permanente supporters march outside a Kaiser facility in Sacramento, California on August 15, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli | P.A.
More than 60,000 health care workers voted Thursday to strike against Kaiser Permanente if an agreement is not reached when their current contract expires on September 30.
SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West members voted 98% in favor of a strike following complaints that wages have not kept pace with inflation and understaffing has led to long delays waiting times and patient neglect.
The California union’s more than 57,000 members include physician assistants, surgical technicians and social workers, among other healthcare professionals.
Some 4,000 health care workers in Oregon and Washington voted Thursday to strike against Kaiser. In Colorado, 3,000 workers authorized a strike against Kaiser last week.
The labor groups are part of an umbrella organization called the Kaiser Permanente Union Coalition, which represents a total of 85,000 health care workers. The coalition says the strikes, if held, would be the largest by health care workers in U.S. history.
Kaiser Permanente is one of the largest nonprofit health plans in the United States, with nearly 13 million members. It operates 39 hospitals and more than 600 medical practices in eight states and Washington, DC.
The coalition began contract negotiations with Kaiser Permanente in April. The unions’ last contract was negotiated in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic pushed the country’s health system to the brink. A final national negotiation session is scheduled for September 21 and 22.
Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, said Kaiser failed to negotiate in good faith and its proposals would make staffing problems worse.
“Nearly 60,000 frontline workers at Kaiser facilities voted overwhelmingly to strike because we simply will not stand idly by while Kaiser violates the law and puts patients at risk,” said Regan in a statement Thursday.
Kaiser Permanente, in a statement released Thursday, called the unions’ claims misleading and urged employees to resist any calls for an actual strike. Kaiser said it has a comprehensive plan in place to ensure continued access to health care in the event of a strike.
In late August, Kaiser called strike threats “disappointing” and said the union’s claims that it had not acted in good faith were “unfounded and counterproductive.”