April 14, 2024
Kaiser and a coalition of unions representing the 75,000 workers ready to strike Wednesday both cited progress in negotiations over the weekend -- but not enough to call off the planned walkout.

Kaiser Permanente is warning patients of potential disruptions to medical care ahead of a massive three-day strike planned to start Wednesday morning if a new contract deal can’t be reached with its workforce.

A coalition of unions is planning picket lines for 6 a.m. outside more than a dozen Bay Area medical centers, including Kaiser’s major facilities in San Jose and Oakland, in a bid to obtain higher wages and more job protections. Some 23,000 Bay Area Kaiser workers are ready to stop work.

The labor action by 75,000 Kaiser workers across the country comes amid a surge in strikes in the U.S. A months-long strike by Hollywood writers ended late last month after a deal between their union and movie and TV producers. Film and TV actors remain on strike against Hollywood studios. In mid-September, thousands of unionized auto workers went on strike over wages at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-owned Stellantis. Southern California hotel workers have been striking on and off since early July. Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday vetoed a bill that would given unemployment benefits to striking workers in California.

Kaiser and a coalition of unions representing the workers — including lab and X-ray workers and some nurses — both cited progress in negotiations over the weekend, but not enough to call off the planned walkout. On Monday morning, both sides agreed to continue to meet through mid-day Tuesday if necessary, Kaiser said.

The health care giant serves 9.4 million patients in California. Here’s what Kaiser members need to know:

Q: Will all Kaiser facilities shut if there’s a strike?

A: Kaiser said it would keep all hospitals and emergency departments open. “Our facilities will continue to be staffed by our physicians, trained and experienced managers, and staff,” Kaiser said Monday, adding that it could bring on “professionals contracted to serve in critical care roles specifically for the duration of a strike.”

Q: I’m a Kaiser patient. Could I still get health care during a strike?

A: In an online advisory, Kaiser said it had plans in place to make sure patients “continue to receive safe, high-quality care.”

Q: What would change for patients if Kaiser workers strike?

A: Kaiser in a message to patients Monday said if workers strike, it may need to reschedule “some non-urgent appointments and procedures.”

Q: How would I know if my appointment or procedure needs to be rescheduled?

A: Kaiser said it would contact patients in advance if their appointment or procedure is delayed.

Q: Would anything be different if I had to go to the emergency room during a strike?

A: Kaiser said a strike could mean longer wait times.

Q: Will Kaiser pharmacies stay open?

A: Kaiser advised its patients to order medications by mail at kp.org/pharmacy or by calling, in Northern California, 1-888-218-6245. Inpatient pharmacies will stay open. Kaiser said it would expand its network to include “community pharmacies that can serve our members during a strike and mitigate any closure of our outpatient pharmacies.”

Q: Can I still call Kaiser if there’s a strike?

A: Yes, but Kaiser said hold times could be longer than usual.

Q: Which Kaiser workers would strike?

A: Job categories include certified nursing assistants; licensed vocational nurses; lab scientists, technicians and assistants; optometrists; genetic counselors; respiratory therapists; technicians in the emergency room and radiology departments; admitting representatives; receptionists; call center workers; claims examiners; housekeepers; ultrasound sonographers; tele-service representatives; dietary-services staff, behavioral-health workers, surgical and pharmacy technicians; transporters; home health therapists and aides; phlebotomists; medical assistants; lab assistants; and administrative support workers.

Q: What’s at issue in this dispute?

A: Kaiser’s contract with tens of thousands of workers expired Sept. 30. Unions representing workers claim Kaiser has engaged in unfair labor practices and understaffs its facilities, potentially leading to dangerously long wait times, mistakes in diagnosis and patient neglect. The unions also want raises of about 6% a year for four years. Kaiser said Sunday in a news release that it leads in total compensation everywhere it operates, and has offered a $23 minimum wage starting next year for California workers. The company said it has hired more than 50,000 workers in the last two years nationally, including 9,800 into jobs represented by the unions planning to strike.

Q: What’s in the way of a new contract that would avert a strike?

A: The unions say Kaiser’s raise offers of 4% for two years and 3% for the following two years for Northern California workers falls short. Kaiser agreed to extend protections from most subcontracting and outsourcing, but insists on removing those protections for some workers in its financial operations, the unions said over the weekend. The unions are also seeking to ensure union-organizing rights in any entity Kaiser may acquire, and also want to increase performance bonuses for workers.

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Q: How many workers in California and this region could strike?

A: More than 59,000 members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West could strike across California, joined by 2,500 members of OPEIU Local 29 and 1,900 members of IFPTE Local 20 in Northern California. About 23,000 Bay Area workers would strike, the unions said.

Q: Would this strike be unprecedented?

A: The unions representing workers say it would be the largest strike in health-care history. Two years ago, tens of thousands of Kaiser workers went on strike. Last year, about 2,000 Kaiser therapists and counselors went on strike for 10 weeks.