Another Kaiser Permanente union authorizes strike
Nearly 2,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California voted to allow a strike, their union announced Thursday.
The not-for-profit integrated health system’s labor woes continue to mount. This vote by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers follows a series of strike authorizations backed by members of labor groups belonging to the Alliance of Health Care Union. So far this month, unions representing more than 25,000 Kaiser Permanente employees in California and Oregon have given their bargaining teams permission to initiate strikes if negotiations don’t progress.
The National Union of Healthcare Workers represents 15,000 Kaiser Permanente employees in California and Hawaii. The strike authorization is limited to mental health prpfessionals in northern California, including psychologists, therapists and social workers. The most recent collective bargaining agreement between the employer and these National Union of Healthcare Workers employees expired Oct. 1.
According to the union, members voted to allow their bargaining team to call a strike because the Oakland, California-based health system won’t accede to workers’ demands that the company address staffing shortages and improve patient access to mental healthcare.
Patients face “dangerously long waits” for mental healthcare, the union said. Kaiser Permenente also has not agreed to union proposals that they hire more people, reduce caseloads for workers and bring on more therapists who are bilingual or belong to underrepresented communities, according to the
Kaiser Permanente didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Votes to authorize strikes don’t necessarily mean a labor action is imminent. Even if the bargaining team representing National Union of Healthcare Workers members were to call a strike, federal law requires healthcare unions to give 10 days advance notice. In the meantime, negotiations will continue, the union said.
Earlier this month, 21,000 registered nurses, pharmacists, rehabilitation therapists, midwives and optometrists in southern California represented by the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals and 3,400 members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals authorized strikes. These unions contracts also expired Oct. 1.
The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals and Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals are among the 21 labor groups that compose the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which represents 52,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in several states. The National Union of Healthcare Workers does not belong to the Alliance of Health Care Unions and negotiates its own contracts.
“If the Alliance unions do strike, it’s possible that the mental health clinicians in northern California would strike at the same time as a separate action, but we are not in the Alliance and don’t coordinate with them,” National Union of Healthcare Workers spokesperson Matthew Artz wrote in an email.
About 750 northern California Kaiser Permanente employees belonging to an International Union of Operating Engineers local, who repair medical equipment, have been on strike since mid-September over wages and working conditions, Northern California Public Media reported.