Kaiser hopes to avert walkout but health care workers ready to hit picket line

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Tuesday, October 3, 2023
Kaiser hopes to avert walkout but health care workers ready for strike
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As employees for Kaiser Permanente prepare to hit the picket line Wednesday, the health care company says they've been "making progress" - but what should workers and patients expect if a strike kicks off?

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As employees for Kaiser Permanente prepare to hit the picket line Wednesday, the health care company says they've been "making progress" - but what should workers and patients expect if a strike kicks off?

Contract talks between the health care provider and union negotiators continued Tuesday in hopes of averting the walkout.

"A strike is not inevitable and it is certainly not justified," said Kaiser in a statement. "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.''

There appeared to be less optimism on the union side, which circulated plans to picketing that would begin at 6 a.m. Wednesday at Kaiser locations throughout the state.

What will happen if workers go on strike?

With 75,000 Kaiser workers expected to take part, all of those employees will essentially walk off their jobs. Among the workers involved in the 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.

Unlike the strike involving mental health workers, which happened around the same time last year, the union says this won't be an open-ended strike. That means if it does happen, the strike will only last three days.

What are the issues?

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 from 12.5-16% over 4 years,'' with a minimum wage starting at $21 an hour in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, the Mid-Atlantic States (Virginia, Maryland, and DC), and Hawaii, and a $23 minimum wage in California.

Those minimum wages would increase each year of the 4-year contract.

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.

What about Kaiser patients? Will they still be able to get care during the strike?

Kaiser said all hospitals and emergency departments will remain open with physicians, managers, and staff. "In some cases, we will augment with contingent workers," Kaiser said.

The health care provider said it would contact members affected by any changes. Non-emergency and elective services in some locations will have to be rescheduled out of an abundance of caution. The Kaiser inpatient pharmacies will remain open.

One woman who spoke with Eyewitness News on Tuesday said her mother has a procedure scheduled this week and admits she isn't sure what's going to happen.

"She has been leaving messages and the only excuse they had was because of the strike," said Freda Warren. "Even though it hasn't even started yet ... just the potential."

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.''

Both sides are still negotiating.

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.