LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers returned to the picket lines Thursday for the second day of a planned three-day walkout, and union leaders said if they can't come to an agreement with the health care provider, there will be a second strike.
The strike began Wednesday morning at Kaiser facilities across the state. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions has been pushing for higher wages, increased staffing and better working conditions. The unions have also repeatedly accused Kaiser of bad-faith negotiating, an allegation Kaiser has denied.
The workers' contract expired Saturday, but bargaining continued over the weekend and again Monday, Tuesday and through the night into Wednesday.
The short answer is slightly. According to a union representative who spoke with Eyewitness News on Thursday, Kaiser is reportedly offering a 5% annual raise. However, the unions said they're calling for a 7% annual raise.
"It's not only about the money, it's about nurses being tired and exhausted because they have to work overtime, they have to stay 16 hours, and they're exhausted and tired," said Rocio Chacon, one of the union's reps at the bargaining table. "Let's come to the table and let's talk about staffing. Let's talk about hiring more people."
The company says it has met a recent hiring goal and will continue to hire more people, though Kaiser has not identified if those new hires are permanent or full-time staff.
Chacon has worked for Kaiser for 25 years as a billing and accounts specialist and this is the first time she has ever gone on strike. She told ABC News she has spent most of the past six months shuttling between Los Angeles and San Francisco where union leaders have been holding marathon negotiation sessions the past few weeks.
Kaiser, the largest private employer in California, released a statement Wednesday saying it has reached tentative agreements on employee wages. Chacon said they haven't seen anything on paper.
Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su even tried to move the needle in recent days, working in San Francisco among the parties, but right now, Kaiser and the unions are deadlocked.
The unions say they are planning a "longer and stronger" round of strikes the first week of November, in which staff would picket for five consecutive days. If the numbers hold, that would make it quite difficult for Kaiser to fill in the gaps with temporary workers.
"We have to get the executives from Kaiser to sit down and bargain that part, in good faith, obviously," said Kaiser X-Ray technologist Armando Velasco, who spoke with ABC7 on Thursday. "We need to make sure that our patients have good service, quality service, like Kaiser always promotes quality service, not just for patients, but for their workers as well."
On Wednesday, Kaiser said it has been reached "a number of tentative agreements" in bargaining, including:
"We remain committed to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages, excellent benefits, generous retirement income plans, and valuable professional development opportunities.
Together, we have faced the toughest challenges over the past three years. Kaiser Permanente, our industry, and our employees are now operating in a new cultural, labor, and post-pandemic environment that we are all working hard to understand. We are committed to finding workable solutions for this new environment that meet our responsibility to balance taking care of our employees and being affordable to our members.
We will coordinate with Coalition leaders to reconvene bargaining as soon as possible. We will work hard to reach an agreement so that together, we can all return to delivering on the mission of Kaiser Permanente for the benefit of our members, patients, employees, physicians, customers, and communities."
Kaiser is assuring patients that their hospitals and ERs will remain open, even if some non-emergency services have to be rescheduled.
ABC News and City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.