On Labor Day, Sept. 2, around 2,200 people, comprised of health-care workers, union organizers, and allies, gathered at Los Angeles City College to demonstrate their readiness to strike.
According to Gabriel Montoya, an EMT worker organized with SEIU-UHW at the Downey Kaiser health-care center, over 9,000 health-care workers demonstrated on Labor Day in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Oakland. Most of the workers are employed by Kaiser, though some are employed by Dignity Health, and other health-care companies. They include ward clerks, receptionists, radiology techs, respiratory therapists, emergency medical technicians, AVS workers, cleaners, and food workers.
In a demonstration of solidarity, the rally was attended by members and organizers of other unions, including Teamsters Locals 630 and 396, Service Employees International Union 2015, United Teachers of Los Angeles, United Farm Workers, Fight for 15 LA, and AFL-CIO. Other participating organizations included the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation Los Angeles. The rally also attracted Congresswoman Lucille Royball-Allard (D); CA State Senators Maria Elena Durazo (D), Bob Archuleta (D), and Holly J. Mitchell (D); and CA Assembly members Laura Friedman (D), Laurena Gonzalez (D), and Miguel Santiago (D).
According to SEIU-UHW, in December 2018 the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser Permanente with failing to negotiate the health workers’ new contract in good faith. Therefore, between July 29 and August 11, 37,000 Kaiser workers voted for an unfair labor practices strike, a 98 percent vote with an “uncommonly high” turnout. “The strike would start in early October and be the nation’s largest since the Teamsters’ walkout at UPS in 1997.”
Lou Villalvazo, secretary treasurer and principal officer of Teamsters Local 630 in Los Angeles, which represents 7,000 private-sector workers, explained why the Teamsters joined SEIU-UHW in the rally: “They [Kaiser] have enough to share a little bit of the pie with these workers, especially people that take care of ourselves, our mothers, our kids. It’s unfathomable that this nonprofit is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing.” This solidarity extends to other union struggles as well. “We’re also supporting UFCW 770, the fight for ‘one job should be enough,’ [and are] with the grocery workers,” said Villalvazo.
The rally began with speeches from workers, such as Eric Jines, who works at the nearby Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. Jines found that “Kaiser Permanente is a non-profit health-care corporation, and it’s abandoned its mission to serve our communities in favor of earning massive profits and enriching top executives,” pointing out that Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson makes over $44,000 per day, while Kaiser has made claims that workers making $44,000 per year are earning “too much.”
Jines provided further damning statistics exposing the wealth that Kaiser is currently refusing to share with its workers: “A CEO got a $6 million raise to $16 million a year. Does that sound like a nonprofit to you? And there are 36 executives who make over $1 million a year. Does that sound like a nonprofit to you? $11 billion in profits, and a whopping record-breaking $5 billion profit in the first six months this year, $37 billion in reserves. Does this sound like a nonprofit? Very little care for low-income patients. Does that sound like a nonprofit? We reject you, Kaiser, and what you’ve become.”
One worker, Denise, has been with Kaiser for 21 years, and recounted a story of saving a man’s life in the ER while no doctors or nurses were present. Another worker, Jesse, described how his job as lab courier in Chino Hills was slowly outsourced to another company, which lost a baby’s spinal tap results on the very day Jesse was on vacation.
The speakers listed SEIU-UHW’s core demands to Kaiser:
- Restore a true worker-management partnership, and have Kaiser bargain in good faith;
- Ensure safe staffing and compassionate use of technology;
- Build the workforce of the future to deal with major projected shortages of licensed and accredited staff in the coming years; and
- Protect middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families.
EMT worker Montoya stressed that these demands don’t just benefit Kaiser workers. “What happens to us is going to affect the community, no matter how Kaiser tries to spin it. What happens with their health-care workforce is going to affect the communities they claim they want to serve.”
For example, better staffing can help patients get care on time. Montoya said, “I work in an emergency room where people sometimes wait 4-½ hours to see a physician, and that’s ridiculous!”
Democratic Senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris also spoke at the rally. Though she gave many plaudits to “organized labor,” correctly attributing the five-day workweek and eight-hour workday to labor struggles, she conspicuously did not mention Kaiser Permanente, the target of this particular struggle. According to OpenSecrets.org, Kaiser is Harris’s 12th biggest donor, giving her $117,122 over the course of her political career.
From the college, the thousands of ralliers proceeded to march towards the Kaiser Permanente LA Medical Center, chanting “What’s this about? Patient care!” and “Kaiser, Kaiser, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!” At the medical center, several demonstrators were arrested in a civil-disobedience action.
For those who would like to support SEIU-UHW in their struggle, Montoya recommends expressing their solidarity with the workers to Kaiser and elected officials, as well as joining and aiding with the upcoming strike, should it take place. SEIU-UHW will continue to provide updates and further information on the struggle on its website.