Kaiser issues update on labor negotiations, strikes to begin Thursday and Friday

By Antonia Ehlers, PR and Media Relations, Kaiser Permanente Northern California

In response to the planned healthcare worker strikes beginning today and tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, Nov. 18 and 19, Kaiser Permanente issued the following statement:

We are extremely grateful for all our frontline health care workforce, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring. We recently reached successful agreements with dozens of unions that represent more than 60,000 Kaiser Permanente employees that demonstrate our commitment to providing excellent wages and benefits for all employees while meeting our commitment to delivering high-quality, affordable care for our members and patients. These are market-leading contracts, reached through constructive and reasonable bargaining.

Bargaining with Local 39 IUOE

Kaiser Permanente has been bargaining in good faith with Local 39 IUOE, the union that represents about 600 Kaiser Permanente operating engineers, for several months. The union decided to call a strike and have kept employees out for more than two months. We are offering Local 39 employees wages that are similar to our other employees’ and that, on top of Local 39’s generous medical and the richest retirement benefits, will keep our engineers among the best compensated in their profession, at an average of more than $180,000 in total wages and benefits. We are not proposing any take-aways and our proposals do not differentiate between current and future employees. But union leadership wants more, asking for unreasonable increases far beyond any other union at Kaiser Permanente.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, after many hours bargaining on Tuesday and Wednesday, there is no movement in negotiations with Local 39. The union insists it receive much more – in some cases nearly two times more – than other union agreements covering Kaiser Permanente employees.

Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Senior Vice President, Hospital and Health Plan Operations, Kaiser Permanente Northern California spoke via video about the workers and patient care during the strike.

We are optimistic that we can resolve the remaining issues with Local 39 at the bargaining table and reach an agreement that continues to reward our employees and supports health care affordability, just as we have with several unions this week.

Sympathy strikes

As one of the largest health care union employers in the United States — with nearly 75% of our employees working under collective bargaining agreements — we fully understand solidarity among unions. But given the demands of Local 39, on top of the already market-leading compensation and highest retirement benefit of any represented employee in our organization, we believe that sympathy strikes are not appropriate in this case. We are asking our staff to choose to be there for our patients, and to come to work.

We question why leaders of other unions are asking their members to walk out on patients on Nov. 18 and 19 in sympathy for Local 39. This will not bring us closer to an agreement and most important, it is unfair to our members and patients to disrupt their care when they most need our employees to be there for them.

Several unions have submitted sympathy strike notices: SEIU-UHW, Local 20, and Local 29 on Thursday, November 18 and the California Nurses Association, Friday, November 19. Kaiser Permanente is not in bargaining with these unions, and each has a current contract. In fact, we have informed SEIU-UHW, Local 20, and Local 29 union leaders that we believe in accordance with their contracts, these sympathy strikes are not protected by law.

We are also in bargaining with NUHW, the union that represents our mental health professionals. NUHW has announced a one-day strike for Friday, November 19.

We have taken steps to ensure that our members and patients will continue to receive high-quality, safe care and service should these strikes occur.

We have prepared thoroughly to care for our patients in the event of a strike and are working diligently to reduce the impact.

  • During the strike, care will be provided by physicians and experienced clinical managers and staff, with the support of trained and qualified contingency staff.
  • Some non-urgent medical appointments or procedures may be affected, and we will reach out to patients to reschedule or convert appointments to phone or video if that is appropriate. We will not postpone any urgent or emergency care, or critical medical appointments.
  • We encourage members to schedule an appointment should they need lab, optometry, or radiology services this week as some of our locations will be temporarily closed or operating with reduced hours. If a member has an urgent need for services, they should call the Appointment and Advice Call Center, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Some outpatient pharmacies will be temporarily closed from Nov. 18 and 19.  If a member does not need their refill right away, any closed pharmacies will reopen on Saturday, Nov. 20. Our Mail Delivery pharmacy will remain open during the strike to order refills at kp.org or by phone.
  • In the event an urgent prescription is needed and the outpatient pharmacy is closed, Kaiser Permanente staff will provide members with direction on how to fill their prescription at an open Kaiser Permanente pharmacy or at a retail pharmacy. Hospital pharmacies for inpatient care and critical infusion services will remain in operation.
  • All our hospitals and emergency departments will continue to be open during a strike and remain safe places to receive care.

As this is an evolving situation, we will continue to communicate directly with our members and post updates on kp.org as they are available.

We are very sorry for any disruption members may experience as we take steps to ensure that we continue to provide high-quality, safe care during this union strike.

Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States.

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.

It’s unconscionable that union leaders would ask health care workers to walk away from the patients who need them and deliberately disrupt their care.

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