Photo: Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. Instagram: @unioncoalition
More than 60,000 California health care workers have authorized a strike at Kaiser Permanente, signaling the possibility of the largest health care strike in U.S. history.
Unions in Colorado, Oregon and Washington have also approved a strike, making this the now largest single-employer labor negotiations occurring in the United States with 85,000 employees. These workers care for nearly 13 million people across the United States, and they say if Kaiser does not agree to their terms by Sept. 30, they are striking.
Workers at Kaiser have cited a tremendous amount of issues within the workplace, including understaffing, slashing performance bonuses for front-line workers, outsourcing work to low-paying, for-profit companies, failing to keep up with the cost of living, failing to develop the existing workforce to meet the workforce shortfall and more. Not only are workers impacted by Kaiser’s greed, but they say that issues like understaffing lead to extended wait time for patients, delays in receiving medications and outright denial of care.
While workers and patients deal with the consequences, managers and executives who do not even interact with patients are being paid “top-dollar” for the labor of front-line workers. While workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck with some even living in their cars, Kaiser’s CEO made more than $16 million in 2021, and 49 executives were compensated more than a million dollars annually. Kaiser’s newest financials state they have made $3 billion in profit in the first half of the year.
While Kaiser is a “non-profit” health care organization, they have reported more than $24 billion in profit over the last five years. They have invested $113 billion in fossil fuels, casinos, for-profit prisons, alcohol companies and military weapons. So why do they refuse to pay their workers a livable wage?
Kaiser’s response to the lengthy list of exploitation includes making low-ball offers to workers, utilizing anti-union talking points, and framing the strike incorrectly to the public. Kaiser has offered workers a minimum wage of just $21, and in states where the cost of living is high, like in California where workers are striking, some say you need to make around $42 an hour to live comfortably.
Kaiser’s anti-union rhetoric is hypocritical considering the very reason that workers are striking is that Kaiser has not taken the care of workers or patients seriously, and that has resulted in a loss of quality in care for everyone. Shifting responsibility for what is happening is a tactic used similarly against teachers — to blame them for “hurting the patients” or students, rather than acknowledging that their inability to pay their workers livable wages is what is hurting their patients. If Kaiser was at all invested in the communities they pretend to care for, they would protect the workers that directly care for these communities.
The United States is experiencing a boom in the labor movement. Whether it’s Starbucks workers or graduate students or actors and writers, we’re witnessing a tremendous demonstration of the power of labor across all sectors. Through mounting a credible strike threat, the victory for UPS Teamsters demonstrated that when we fight, we win. This is not lost on Kaiser health care workers, who are now coming for what’s theirs.