The Oregon Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals and the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals announced on Monday that their members have voted to authorize a strike.
The action comes as hospitals across the country are facing staffing shortages for nurses and other healthcare professionals, and many in the industry are being subjected to vaccine mandates, which is leading to mass terminations by the hundreds. President Joe Biden announced a vaccine mandate last month for health care facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, impacting millions.
“We are doing this for our patients. We are fighting for #SafeStaffing and the future of healthcare, and we know that Kaiser’s offers will be a disaster for patient care,” Oregon Federation of Nurses and Healthcare Professionals tweeted. “We are #PatientDefenders, and we fight for patients!”
UNAC/UHCP announced in a tweet that 96 percent of more than 18,000 members voted to authorize a strike at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region.
The Washington Post reported that votes of this nature do not automatically lead to a strike, as Kaiser Permanente is given 10 days to respond before workers walk off the job. The unions represent members in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state and D.C., and the strikes could spread.
The unions want Kaiser “to scrap its plans for a two-tiered wage and benefits system,” the article noted, saying it “would pay newer employees less than more tenured colleagues and offers them fewer health protections.” They also seek a 4 percent raise and a commitment to hire more nurses in the face of staffing shortages.
“Our members feel that they’re pivotal stakeholders to how health care is administered and designed at a front-line level. We think it’s valuable work and we think it’s being cut back. We think systems have been shortchanged,” UNAC/UHCP President Denise Duncan told the Post.
In a statement to the newspaper, Kaiser spokesperson Marc Brown said the health care company would continue to negotiate with the union and that there goal is to resolve the matter quickly.
“We ask that our employees reject a call to walk away from the patients who need them,” Brown said in a statement. “Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.”
Kaiser senior vice president of human resources Arlene Peasnall said in a separate statement that “differences in bargaining are best worked out at the bargaining table,” while touting the company’s “history of union partnership.”
“At Kaiser Permanente, we are proud of our history of having a highly unionized workforce,” Peasnall said. “Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor, and labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to give more people access to high-quality care and make care more affordable. We remain committed to working together with labor for our workforce, our members, and the communities that rely on us.”
“We will continue to work collaboratively with OFNHP to reach an agreement that meets the interests of both parties,” the statement added. “Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.”
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