FRESNO COUNTY – Hundreds of workers from the medical center joined a morning informational picket to protest what they describe as unsafe working conditions caused by chronic understaffing.
The protest took place on July 26 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in front of the medical center on Fresno Street. According to Renee Saldana, press secretary for SEIU-UHW (Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West), employees showed up on their lunch break or came on their day off to participate.
“We would definitely consider it a success,” Saldana said.
The Fremont picket was one of 38 scheduled protests at Kaiser facilities throughout the state. Similar protests were planned at Kaiser locations across the country. Workers were also protesting the fact that on Sept. 30, employment contracts for thousands of Kaiser employees nationwide are set to expire.
Betsy Twitchell is the national coordinator of communications for the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents 85,000 Kaiser employees nationwide. Twitchell said the healthcare giant has ignored workers’ concerns for a long time.
“There were staffing problems before the pandemic,” Twitchell said, “but during the pandemic, it got worse. A lot of folks left the healthcare industry. Those who remained are reeling from that trauma.”
Due to staffing shortages, Twitchell said it is not uncommon for an employee to be doing the work of two, even three people.
“It’s got to the breaking point,” she said.
At the same time, Kaiser, a non-profit, has steadily increased its profits. According to a SEIU-UHW press release, the company’s net worth doubled between 2018 and 2022 to nearly $59 billion. Its CEO Gregory A. Adams received compensation in excess of $16 million in 2021; 49 executives earn more than $1 million per year.
Twitchell said the company’s claims that it cannot afford to increase staff ring hollow with frontline healthcare workers.
“They (Kaiser) have this $113 billion investment portfolio worldwide,” Twitchell said. “Employees are thinking, ‘Why aren’t we being invested in? We deliver care to patients. Where’s our investment?’”
According to a survey by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing published earlier this year, about 100,000 registered nurses in the U.S. left the industry because of pandemic-related stresses. Definitive Healthcare, which offers data analytics and intelligence on the healthcare market, analyzed medical claims data from 2021. The analysis found that, as of August 2021, over 230,000 physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and clinicians had left their jobs.