75,000 union health care workers at Kaiser Permanente go on strike

Unions say it is the largest strike of health care workers in US history

More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente employees walked off the job on Wednesday in what their union representatives say is the largest strike of health care workers in U.S. history.

A coalition of labor unions representing the workers notified the company last month that it planned to carry out a three-day strike starting Wednesday at 6:00 a.m. PT if a new contract was not reached in time. The previous contract expired Saturday.

The strike will impact hundreds of hospitals spanning several states, with picket lines in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Kaiser Permanente workers march in rally

Health care workers take part in a rally at Kaiser Permanente's main medical facility in Los Angeles on Sept. 4, 2023. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The health care workers' unions are calling for increased staffing levels at Kaiser Permanente hospitals, saying the facilities are in the midst of a "short-staffing crisis" that is unsafe and could lead to patients facing dangerously long wait times, mistaken diagnoses and neglect. The unions also accuse the hospital conglomerate of committing unfair labor practices.


"Kaiser executives are refusing to listen to us and are bargaining in bad faith over the solutions we need to end the Kaiser short-staffing crisis," said Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, in a prepared statement. 

"I see my patients’ frustrations when I have to rush them and hurry on to my next patient. That’s not the care I want to give," Cruz continued. "We’re burning ourselves out trying to do the jobs of two or three people, and our patients suffer when they can't get the care they need due to Kaiser's short-staffing."

One of the coalition unions, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, held a demonstration at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in early September to protest working conditions at the hospital. The event reportedly drew thousands, and some protesters formed a human chain.

The coalition is asking for a 24.5% raise for members over the course of the four-year contract, protections against subcontracting and outsourcing, the right to organize a union at any hospital systems Kaiser might acquire, a boost to workers' performance sharing plan and increased medical benefits.

Kaiser's latest proposal from over the weekend offered 16% and 12.5% wage increases for coalition employees over the life of the contract, depending on their location. 


The employer also offered to redesign its performance sharing plan with minimum payout opportunities and the potential for a maximum payout of $3,750; updated its outsourcing offer in a way it says addressed many coalition concerns; and included additional employee development funding and improvements to retiree medical benefits.

In response to the short-staffing claims, Kaiser says there is an acute shortage of health care workers nationwide, but despite that challenge, it has been able to hire more than 50,000 frontline workers in the last two years. The company said it reached a goal with the union alliance in April to hire 10,000 new people for coalition-represented jobs, and it expects to reach that target by the end of this month.

Exterior of a Kaiser Permanente emergency room

More than 75,000 union workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals across the country are set to strike on Wednesday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The company said Tuesday that progress was being made in negotiations and that a "strike is not inevitable, and it is certainly not justified."

"We need to keep working together to get through this," Kaiser said in its statement. "Because the reality is that we are still in a health care crisis in this country. Access to care is stretched thin and it will take time to recover as an industry and stabilize the U.S. health care system. We can only do that if we work together, management and labor, side-by-side, for one another, our patients, and our communities."


Kaiser previously said that if a strike did occur, its hospitals and emergency rooms would remain open, and facilities would be staffed by physicians, trained and experienced managers and staff. The health care giant also plans to bring in more contingent workers during the strike, where warranted.