Tens of thousands of US medical workers launch strike at Kaiser Permanente

Coalition union says health care staff demands include pay raises and increased staffing.

Kaiser Permanente workers strike
Scores of workers picketed outside hospitals in California [Frederic J Brown/AFP]

Tens of thousands of medical workers in the United States have walked off the job, in one of the biggest strikes in the country’s health care sector.

The walkout on Wednesday of more than 75,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente, the largest non-profit health care organisation in the US, comes as surging inflation has spurred industrial action across the country.

Most of the Oakland-based company’s facilities are in California, where scores of workers picketed outside hospitals.

“Kaiser has not been bargaining with us in good faith and so it’s pushing us to come out here and strike,” Jacquelyn Duley, a radiologic technologist among the hundreds of picketers at Kaiser Permanente Orange County – Irvine Medical Center, told The Associated Press (AP) news agency. “We want to be inside just taking care of our patients.”

Others said they were underpaid and overworked.

“Ever since the pandemic hit, we lost a lot of members and we never recovered them,” x-ray technician Armando Velasco told the AFP news agency.

Kaiser said its 39 hospitals, including emergency rooms, will remain open but warned the massive strike could cause delays. Doctors are not participating, and Kaiser said it was bringing in thousands of temporary workers to fill the gaps. Still, appointments and nonurgent procedures could be pushed back.

‘They really deserve a lot more’

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions said it was “awaiting a meaningful response from Kaiser executives regarding some of our priorities”, including demands for pay raises and increased staffing.

“Currently, the strike continues, and there are no sessions scheduled at this hour,” said a coalition statement on Wednesday night.

Kaiser said in a statement late on Wednesday that while no contract deal was reached, there were tentative agreements on a number of unspecified issues. The company said it would “reconvene bargaining as soon as possible”.

The strike comes in a year when there have been work stoppages within multiple industries, including transportation, entertainment and hospitality.

At least 453,000 workers have participated in 312 strikes in the US this year, according to Johnnie Kallas, a PhD candidate and the project director of Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker. That figure includes Kaiser workers.

He told AP the strike would likely hurt Kaiser’s reputation and its narrative of patient care more than its bottom line.

“I do think there’s a deep connection between what health care workers had to go through on the front lines of a global pandemic,” he said, adding the feeling now is “they really deserve a lot more in terms of pay, staffing, workplace health and safety”.

The health care industry alone has been hit by several strikes this year as it confronts burnout from heavy workloads – problems that were exacerbated greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: News Agencies