- Thousands of California healthcare workers plan to protest at 32 Kaiser Permanente hospitals starting next week, according to Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West.
- At issue are planned pay cuts and layoffs the employees say will erode patient care across the state.
- A Kaiser spokesman called the union’s criticism false and misleading, Becker’s Hospital Review reports.
SEIU-UHW maintains the health system is planning to slash wages by 20% for thousands of workers in Fresno, Stockton, Modesto, Manteca and Tracy, and is seeking a 10% pay cut for workers in Sacramento, Davis and Roseville. Kaiser also plans to outsource 280 pharmacy warehouse positions in Oakland, Livermore and Downey and move 700 call center jobs from Los Angeles County to other areas of the state where the pay rate is $2 less per hour.
The workers are slated to protest between Feb. 14 and March 9. Kaiser employs 55,000 union workers in California, according to the union, and their current contract expires Sept. 18.
Separately, workers at Dignity Health, the California-based system combining with Catholic Health Initiatives, will protest between Feb. 20 and March 7 to "demand the corporation operate in the interests of patients, healthcare workers and communities."
The contract for some 15,000 Dignity Health employees who are members of SEIU-UHW expires April 1.
Hospitals have seen several high-profile hospital strikes — or threatened strikes — in recent years, most notably at Tufts Medical Center and PartnersHealthcare. Last June, Tufts barred 1,200 nurses from returning to work following a 24-hour strike. The lockout continued until a five-day contract with 320 temporary nurses enlisted to care for patients during the strike expired.
Partners managed to avert a 2016 nurses strike, but not before spending more than $8 million preparing for the planned one-day protest. The dispute cost the health system $16 million in revenue.
Clinician burnout is a major problem. In a survey last year of 600 nurses, half said they were thinking about leaving the profession and the majority of them said they felt overworked. A different survey published two months later found that 90% of nurses were considering leaving their hospital for another job. Again, the primary reason was lack of work/life balance.
The average salary for a registered nurse in 2016 was $61,306, up 3.4% from the previous year, according to a Glassdoor report. Still, the current nursing shortage is expected to worsen over the coming decade, putting more pressure on those that remain. Contributing to the shortfall: an aging population and large numbers of nurses nearing retirement.
With so much at stake, hospitals need to better understand their workforce and anticipate employees’ needs to avoid protests like the ones scheduled at the Kaiser hospitals. Strikes are not only expensive. They can impact patient care and damage an organization’s reputation.
When contract disputes do arise, hospital leaders should be transparent and non-adversarial with the affected employees, said Fraser Seitel, president of Emerald Partners, a communications management consulting firm. “The best way to prevent a strike is by the management of the hospital having a robust communications program with the staff of the hospital as well as keeping competitive in terms of salaries and benefits,” he told Healthcare Dive in an August interview.