Kaiser workers begin vote to authorize a strike – Daily News

on Jul30
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More than 80,000  Kaiser Permanente workers began voting Monday to authorize a nationwide unfair labor practices strike that would be the nation’s largest in more than two decades.

The employees — ranging from registered nurses and X-ray technicians to phone operators and janitors –are seeking higher wages that can support middle-class families, preservation of existing healthcare benefits and an assurance of adequate staffing. They are represented by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which includes 11 individual unions.

The action arose after contract talks stalled on July 12. Most of the employees’ labor contracts will expire in October. In December, the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser with failing to bargain in good faith and wrongly tying collective bargaining negotiations to a ban on political activity, including picketing the company. The union alleges the healthcare giant has continued to bargain in bad faith.

“This should have been settled a year ago,” said Eric Jines, a radiologic technologist at Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center in Hollywood and a member of the bargaining unit. “They walked out on the bargaining a year ago and left us at the table.”

Voting to continue into early September

Voting to approve a strike will take place at Kaiser locations across California and continue into early September at facilities in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The strike — which would be the nation’s largest since the Teamsters strike at United Parcel Service in 1997 — would start in early October.

So what effect would a nationwide strike have?

“It would probably shut down Kaiser,” said Jines, 48, who lives in Panorama City.

Jines said Kaiser is outsourcing jobs and increasingly utilizing technology to replace additional positions. Understaffing has occurred as a result, he said, and it’s having an adverse effect on patient care.

“Lately, we are being asked to multi-task and do two or three different jobs,” he said. “That can lead to mistakes. In cardiac services, we are about 200 deep with people waiting to get in for cardiac catherization and cardiac surgery. We need more staffing.”

Kaiser’s response

In a statement released Monday, Kaiser described the union’s actions as “counterproductive and simply a bullying tactic designed to pressure us during the contract bargaining process.”

“Kaiser Permanente is committed to providing our staff with highly competitive salaries and wages and also to fulfilling our mission to make health care more affordable,” the healthcare provider said. “Unfortunately, for more than two years, the leadership of SEIU-UHW has been waging a power play within the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions and demanding control.”

The Coalition’s proposal, Kaiser said, “would increase our wages on average 32% above the market over the next five years, adding a billion dollars to our labor costs.” At a time when Kaiser is working to keep healthcare affordable, the Coalition’s demands “are not fair to our members and the communities we serve,” the statement said.

Kaiser said Coalition-represented workers are already compensated 23% above market rates, with some making even more. Housekeeping employees in the Southern California region, for example, are earning nearly $44,000 a year, which is 34% above the local market. The union demand would bring that to more than $55,000, or 47% above the local market, according to Kaiser.

10 days’ notice required

If the unions opt to move forward with a strike they are required to give Kaiser 10 days’ advance notice.

“We are counting on them to make arrangements to ensure they can still do what they need to do if a strike happens,” Jines said.

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