In an effort to put further pressure on their employer to address a staffing shortfall that has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, healthcare employees at hundreds of Kaiser Permanente hospitals and medical institutions across the U.S. staged a walkout on Wednesday morning.
In California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., more than 75,000 workers went on strike, including nurses, emergency room technicians, pharmacists, and hundreds of others.
According to the unions, it is the biggest healthcare strike in history. One of the biggest nonprofit healthcare organisations in the US, Kaiser has its headquarters in Oakland, California, and serves around 13 million patients. With the exception of those in Virginia and Washington, D.C., who will strike for a full day, the majority of Kaiser employees will be on strike for three days, until Saturday morning.
What this means for patients Kaiser Strike
The healthcare provider has stated that during the walkout, doctors and other employees will be working in the hospitals’ emergency rooms. It claimed to be bringing on board experts who will serve in crucial care jobs throughout the strike.
Patients have been informed by Kaiser that non-emergency and elective services could need to be postponed. In order to ensure that patients have access to medication in the event that outpatient pharmacies temporarily close, the organisation is expanding its network of pharmacy locations to include community pharmacies. Kaiser hospitals’ inpatient pharmacies will remain open.
Kaiser Strike Short-staffing crisis
They join other important professionals like Hollywood writers and the ongoing United Auto professionals strike as the most recent ones to walk out over salary and working conditions this year.
This walkout is being caused by a shortage of staff, which employees claim has resulted in harsh working conditions that make it harder to retain Kaiser employees while also causing a decline in the quality of treatment for Kaiser’s patients.
According to data from Kaiser that the unions got in April of this year, 11% of union positions were empty.
“Healthcare professionals select this line of employment because they are passionate about it. Caroline Lucas, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, described it as a calling. “And people don’t feel comfortable remaining at jobs where they don’t feel like they can provide the best patient care possible,” the author continued.
When Kaiser refused to negotiate in good faith to address the staffing crisis, the unions claim that Kaiser engaged in unfair labour practises. These claims are refuted by Kaiser.
“I don’t want to strike”
In order to protect patients, Kaiser has instructed staff members to ignore requests to quit their jobs.
Employees like Brooke El-Amin, a 21-year Kaiser employee, claim that the lack of staff is already having an impact on patient care. The aim of the strike is to put Kaiser under pressure to gradually enhance patient service.
El-Amin stated, “I don’t want to strike. “But I think Kaiser is already failing our patients, as well as the staff,” the speaker continued.
Workers’ contract expired without a new one in place
The coalition of unions representing employees faced the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement on September 30, and as of now, no new agreement has been reached. Despite some progress made during weekend discussions concerning issues like outsourcing and subcontracting protections, significant disparities remain between the unions and Kaiser executives, particularly in regard to wages.
On Monday, there was a breakthrough as both parties tentatively agreed to a substantial 40% increase in funding for an education program aimed at providing additional training opportunities for employees, as reported by the SEIU-UHW union in California.
However, the coalition’s demands persist, with a primary request being a nearly 25% pay raise for all members, coupled with improved benefits, including healthcare coverage for retirees. The unions argue that enhancing compensation and working conditions would not only encourage current staff to remain at Kaiser but also attract new talent, ultimately helping to mitigate the ongoing staffing shortages.
Kaiser has responded thus far with raises that span four years and range from 12.5 to 16%. In a statement, Kaiser also mentioned that it is almost at its target of adding 10,000 new union employees by the end of 2023 to fill openings.
The group emphasised that burnout and staffing difficulties affect Kaiser as well as the overall healthcare sector. Additionally, it claimed that its benefit and compensation packages were superior to others.
Because we came at the pandemic from a different angle than most frontline workers, Kaiser Permanente employees were better able to combat it.
According to Lucas, Kaiser’s promise to increase hiring is a positive move. However, she claimed that the healthcare provider is ignoring the thousands of employees who continually quitting, adding that Kaiser needs to significantly improve compensation to incentivize individuals to remain.