Thousands of union members at Kaiser Permanente facilities across the country have voted to authorize an unfair labor practice strike if they cannot reach an agreement with management by September 30th. Approximately 3,800 healthcare workers in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. will lose their jobs at the end of this month if Kaiser Permanente leadership and the union cannot agree on a new contract that addresses staffing shortages and low wages for workers. A statement from OPEIU Local 2, which represents 8,000 workers in the region, stated that about 98% of the union’s healthcare workers will protest “unfair labor practices” if a deal is not reached by Sept. 30.
Healthcare workers represented by the OPEIU Local 2 union include optometrists, pharmacists, nurses, and certified nursing assistants. The union also includes a variety of technicians in healthcare, including surgical, diagnostic imaging, and emergency department technicians. The OPEIU Local 2 union joins thousands of other Kaiser Permanente workers planning a strike on September 30 over contract negotiations, including healthcare workers in Colorado, California, Oregon, and Southwest Washington. According to Kaiser Permanente’s website, Maryland has approximately 30 Kaiser Permanente-affiliated centers within the state. The biggest concern is what the union called “dangerous” staffing shortages, which it said “could lead to dangerously long wait times and rushed face-to-face care.” The group claims that if it goes ahead, it could become the “largest health care strike in U.S. history.”
The union federation and Kaiser Permanente last negotiated a contract in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States. The pressures of the global health crisis have “deteriorated working conditions and exacerbated the medical talent shortage crisis,” according to a Monday press release. OPEIU Local 2 President Linda Bridges said in a written statement, “Kaiser once prided itself on being a great place to receive care and a great place to work, and now it’s failing on both counts. Kaiser can and will do better. Must be done. We demand that Kaiser negotiate in good faith, stop violating the law, and address the healthcare shortage crisis.”
The union alleges that bonus cuts, insufficient wage increases to keep up with rising costs of living, and low wages for entry-level workers that are uncompetitive with fast-food or retail services are contributing to staffing issues. In a written statement released Monday, Kaiser Permanente said the strike authorization vote was a “disappointing action.” Kaiser Permanente noted that officials have two more negotiation sessions scheduled this week before the Sept. 30 deadline. The statement from Kaiser stated, “Before the national agreement expires on September 30, we will strengthen our position as a Best Place to Work and make it easy for our members to receive the quality care they expect from us, at an affordable price. I am confident that an agreement will be reached.”
Kaiser argued that OPEIU Local 2’s wage complaints are misleading, saying the current proposal would set the minimum wage at $21 an hour, when the union is demanding $26 an hour. The nonprofit health organization also claims it has poured millions of dollars into continuing education and training opportunities for employees to address staffing issues. The union countered that Kaiser Permanente earned $3 billion in the first half of 2023, based on the company’s most recent financial reports. “Workers allege that Kaiser engages in unfair labor practices and that understaffing increases Kaiser’s profits to the detriment of patients,” the union statement said. “In a recent survey of 33,000 employees, two-thirds of employees said they had experienced delayed or denied care due to staffing shortages.”