FRESNO – Holding true to their threat to strike, 75,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers across the country – including 60,000 in California – took the picket line on Wednesday, demanding higher pay and better working conditions.
The three-day strike – one of the largest in history – was the result of stalled negotiations between Kaiser and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents over 85,000 Kaiser employees in California, Colorado, Oregon, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and Washington.
At Kaiser Permanente’s Fresno Medical Center, hundreds of workers joined the picket line on Wednesday. Like their counterparts across the country, Fresno workers are demanding higher pay. But these workers are also striking to end what the Coalition describes as an acute staffing crisis.
Fresno Medical Center employee Juan Hernandez told fresnoland that because of short staffing at the hospital, vulnerable patients had to wait over 30 minutes for an employee to help them use the bathroom.
“Because they’re (technicians) doing the work of two or three people, patients are waiting longer,” said Hernandez.
Orlando Vega works in the emergency room at Fresno Medical Center. He echoed Hernadez’s concerns about short staffing.
“We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off,” he told fresnoland. “We’re trying to be at five places at once, trying to take care of critical patients.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, Kaiser called the strike “unnecessary.”
HOW KAISER FRESNO IS AFFECTED
According to Kaiser, all of its California facilities, including emergency rooms, will remain open and operate during normal hours. Temporary contract workers will fill in where necessary.
Kaiser said non-emergency and elective services may be rescheduled during the strike.
Kaiser pharmacists are also picketing. Onsite pharmacies will remain open during the strike but offsite pharmacies will reduce hours of operation or temporarily close.
Kaiser and the Coalition are at loggerheads regarding pay increases for workers. Kaiser proposed increasing the minimum hourly rate for California employees to $23 and to $21 for employees outside of California. California workers are demanding $26 per hour.
Kaiser employees are also demanding the company hire more workers. Countering Kaiser’s claims the healthcare giant cannot afford to add more staff, the Coalition points to the fact the company posted $3 billion in profit in the first three months of 2023.
On its website, in addition to its refusal to hire more employees, the Coalition says Kaiser has failed negotiate in good faith on the following issues:
- Across-the-board raises. The Coalition has asked for pay increases for employees ranging from 5.75% to 6.5%. Kaiser has countered with increases ranging from 3% to 4%.
- Revenue cycle. Kaiser insists on outsourcing the revenue cycle process. This is a system that ensures the hospital receives payment for all services it provides, including pre-registration, registration, charge capture, claim submission, remittance processing, insurance follow-up and patient collections.
- Right to organize. The Coalition maintains Kaiser continues to push back against the Coalition for wanting to organize a union to any health system the company acquires. According to the Coalition, Kaiser wants to grow a non-union, low-wage benefit arm of the company through acquisitions, which threatens all employee wages and benefits.
- PSP bonus. Kaiser has offered a maximum performance sharing program (PSP) benefit of $750 if employees make their goals but the company fails to achieve its financial targets. The Coalition wants a higher PSP, though it did not mention an amount on the website.
- Retiree medical plan. The Coalition wants improvements to the retiree medical plan employees will transition to in 2028. This issue is particularly cantankerous because the Coalition says it helped Kaiser reduce costs in 2015 when it restructured its current retiree plan.