Editor's note: See the latest update to this story here: Kaiser Permanente workers in California vote to authorize strike
UPDATE: Oct. 1, 2021: The contracts expired Thursday and no agreement was reached. The union is holding a strike authorization vote starting Friday that will run through Oct. 10, a union spokesperson said in an email.
- A union representing 24,000 Kaiser Permanente clinicians in California has put a pause on its 24-year partnership with management, the group said Friday.
- Leadership of the union voted last week to move forward with a membership vote that would authorize the bargaining team to call a strike.
- The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals said in a press release Kaiser Permanente is planning "hefty cuts" to nurse wages and benefits despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and high levels of burnout among nurses.
Union activity at hospitals has been ramping up since the onset of the pandemic, as front-line healthcare workers have been stretched to the brink with full ICUs, worries of infection and sick coworkers.
Now, Kaiser Permanente nurses in California are saying they're not being appreciated for their efforts.
"How do you tell caregivers in one breath you're our heroes, we're invested in you, I want to protect you, but in the next say I want to take away your wages and benefits? Even say you're a drag on our bottom line," Charmaine Morales, executive vice president of the union, said in a press release. "For the first time in 26 years, we could be facing a strike."
The most recent bargaining session between the health system and the union was Sept. 10. Another one hasn't been scheduled, despite most contracts being set to expire at the end of the month, the union said.
The labor management partnership started in the 1990s as an attempt for the union and management to share information and decision-making, the union said.
But they also said company leaders have not been invested in the agreement recently.
"Kaiser Permanente has stepped back from the principles of partnership for some time now, and they have violated the letter of our partnership agreement in the lead up to our present negotiations," union president Denise Duncan said in the press release. "Despite that, we are here and ready to collaborate again if KP leaders find their way back to the path — where patient care is the true north in our value compass, and everything else falls in line behind that principle. Patient care is Kaiser Permanente’s core business, or at least we thought so."
The press release cites Kaiser's profitability, as the system's net income was nearly $3 billion in the second quarter of this year. However, that was a decrease of more than a third from the prior-year period.
It also noted multiple lawsuits alleging Kaiser tried to game the Medicare Advantage program by submitting inaccurate diagnosis codes. The Department of Justice has joined six of those lawsuits.
Kaiser Permanente did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.