Roughly 32,000 employees of health care giant Kaiser Permanente say they are ready to walk off the job on Nov. 15 unless negotiations with the workers' union representatives "improve," the unions said in a strike notice this week.
The Alliance of Health Care Unions said that the tens of thousands of workers are from three member unions in California, Oregon, and Washington and that another 8,000 members might issue strike notices of their own in the near future.
"In light of historic labor shortages and half of a million health care workers leaving the profession, and the sacrifices of the past 20 months, [Kaiser Permanente] doubled down on a two-tier proposal to reduce wages for future hires - worsening the staffing crisis and harming patient care," the alliance said in a press release.
The unions are seeking across-the-board wage increases of 4% for nurses and other health care workers annually for the next three years and say Kaiser is offering 2% raises, up from the 1% the company originally proposed.
In reaction to the strike notice, Kaiser senior vice president of human resources Arlene Peasnall issued a response explaining the company's position.
"Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States," Peasnall wrote. "Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor. Labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to provide more people with access to high-quality care and to make care more affordable."
"Over the course of our 24 years of labor partnership, we — labor and management — have negotiated wages and benefits primarily at a national level, so pay has not always been matched to the markets where we operate," Peasnall continued. "As a result, over time in many areas our wage rates have grown to the point where our union-represented employees earn about 26% above the average market wage, and in some places it’s 38% above market."
Peasnall added, "These numbers don’t include the value of our industry-leading benefits and retirement and pension plans along with the opportunity to earn an additional 3% bonus every year, based on our performance."
The company reassured folks in its press release that all facilities would be staffed by contingency workers if a strike does actually occur, and that the firm's "physicians will continue to be available to care for patients."