Kaiser, health care workers keep talking as possible strike looms

With health care employees for Kaiser Permanente poised to launch a three-day strike that their union says will be the largest of its type in U.S. history, contract talks between the provider and union negotiators continued throughout the day today in hopes of averting the walkout.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a Kaiser spokesman told City News Service the talks were continuing “and could last into the night.”

Kaiser officials issued a statement Monday saying its leaders were meeting with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions “and have been making progress.”

“A strike is not inevitable and it is certainly not justified. Our goal is to reach a fair and equitable agreement that strengthens Kaiser Permanente as a best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access.”

The union, however, continued circulating plans for picketing that will begin at 6 a.m. Wednesday at Kaiser locations throughout the state if contract talks fail — with 75,000 Kaiser workers expected to take part across California and several other states.

“Kaiser executives are refusing to listen to us and are bargaining in bad faith over the solutions we need to end the Kaiser short-staffing crisis,” Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center — one of the planned picket locations — said in a statement released by the union Monday.   

“I see my patients’ frustrations when I have to rush them and hurryon to my next patient. That’s not the care I want to give. We’re burning ourselves out trying to do the jobs of two or three people, and our patients suffer when they can’t get the care they need due to Kaiser’s short-staffing.”

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According to the union, there will be additional pickets at Kaiser facilities across the state, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties.

Additional picketing would be done at Kaiser facilities in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., according to the union coalition.

The workers’ contract expired Saturday, but bargaining continued over the weekend and again Monday and Tuesday.   

Among the workers involved in a strike would be licensed vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, radiology technicians, ultrasound sonographers, teleservice representatives,  respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, certified nursing assistants, dietary services, behavioral health workers, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians, transporters, home health aides, phlebotomists and medical assistants, union officials said.   

The union has accused Kaiser of cutting performance bonuses for employees, failing to protect employees against subcontracting, offering wages that fail to keep pace with inflation and falling short in efforts to maintain adequate staffing levels.

According to Kaiser, the company is offering “across the board wage increases,” with a minimum wage starting at $21 an hour. The health care provider denied allegations it is slashing performance bonuses and raising premiums for members without any relation to health care costs or improvements in care.

“In Southern California, where our wages significantly exceed market levels, we are offering wage increases of 10% over four years plus lump sum bonuses of 4%, to keep our employees well compensated,” according to Kaiser.

In its statement Monday, Kaiser stated that the company has “plans in place to ensure we can continue to provide high-quality care should a strike actually occur this week.”

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