Kaiser Permanente workers to go on strike Nov. 15, demanding higher pay, better working conditions

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente employees are set to go on strike Nov. 15., planning to walk out over pay and working conditions strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of nurses and other health care workers at Kaiser in California and Oregon voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize the strike.

The workers' union, the United Nurses Assns. of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, or UNAC/UHCP, says the strike will affect more than 360 hospitals and medical centers across Southern California.

Kaiser, one of the nation's largest health care providers, has proposed a two-tiered wage and benefits system that would give newer employees lower pay and fewer health protections. The unions want Kaiser to abandon that plan. They also want 4% raises for each of the next three years and a commitment to hire more nurses to relieve staffing shortages. Kaiser has offered 1% a year, with additional lump sums, and says it must reduce labor costs to remain competitive.

The regional strike vote comes amid national contract negotiations between Kaiser and the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which represents more than 20 unions covering more than 50,000 Kaiser workers nationwide. More strike authorizations could come in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state and the District of Columbia, the unions said.

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Kaiser says it hopes to reach an agreement to avoid a strike, adding that if a strike does happen, physicians and managers will be on hand to care for patients.

"Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States," Arlene Peasnall, a senior vice president of human resources, said in a statement. "Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor. Labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to provide more people with access to high-quality care and to make care more affordable.

"We have been engaged in national bargaining with the Alliance of Health Care Unions since April and have made progress in many important areas, reaching tentative agreements on the funding of a workforce development trust and several sub-committee recommendations," the statement said. "We have been meeting regularly since late September and believe an agreement that meets the interests of all is very possible."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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