UPDATE (Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 12:09 p.m. PT) — A union coalition representing 80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers announced Monday they’ll be walking picket lines in four weeks. Union leaders said the Oct. 14 walkout would be the biggest strike in the country since a Teamsters’ strike against United Parcel Service in 1997.
Hours later, top Kaiser executives decried what they called “negative corporate campaigning” and an “aggressive approach.”
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions said it’s planning a nationwide action to last seven days over alleged unfair labor practices at the medical nonprofit. The union said the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser “with failing to bargain in good faith.”
Union officials laid out a set of four priorities they’re aiming for including “a true worker-management partnership,” “safe staffing,” a plan to “build the workforce” as well as raise wages and benefits.
The union statement went on to criticize Kaiser practices, such as raising rates for patients, not treating enough patients with low incomes and allowing high executive salaries, including a reported $16 million annual salary for the nonprofit’s CEO, Bernard J. Tyson.
The planned walkout would affect people in jobs ranging from optometrists and X-ray technologists to vocational nurses and housekeepers. In a statement, the union coalition said “picket lines will be set up at Kaiser Permanente hospitals, medical office buildings and other facilities,” from the Northwest to the East Coast.
Monday evening, Kaiser Permanente released a statement from Tyson, blasting the strike announcement as “an overt effort to gain leverage in bargaining.”
“We are in this situation because of the aggressive approach of SEIU-UHW [Service Employees International Union - United Healthcare Workers] leadership, but our approach remains the same: we are committed to offering a package that’s aligned with all of our other unions that keeps our employees among the best paid in wages and benefits in the industry,” Tyson said.
“I hope we will not have a strike on October 14, and we are preparing to deal with all scenarios to make sure our members are cared for,” Tyson’s statement concluded.
In its statement, the union coalition agreed that a strike shouldn’t be necessary, but suggested stopping it was up to the nonprofit’s management, rather than the union.
“Our goal is to get Kaiser to stop committing unfair labor practices and get back on track as the best place to work and get care,” said Eric Jines, a radiologic technologist at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. “There is no reason for Kaiser to let a strike happen when it has the resources to invest in patients, communities and workers.”
The planned strike would include more than 6,600 workers in Kaiser locations in Oregon and Washington.
Among the elected officials the union names as supporters of the “unfair labor practices strike” are Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify which jobs the planned walkout would affect.