About 80,000 Kaiser Permanente employees will strike for a week starting Oct. 14 after accusing their employer of enriching top executives, raising rates on patients and outsourcing jobs, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced late Monday.
Kaiser Permanente and employees have been going back and forth for more than a year over complaints. Workers will set up picket lines at Kaiser Permanente locations such as hospitals and medical offices in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
"We believe the only way to ensure our patients get the best care is to take this step," Eric Jines, a radiologic technologist at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, said in a coalition statement. "Our goal is to get Kaiser to stop committing unfair labor practices and get back on track as the best place to work and get care. There is no reason for Kaiser to let a strike happen when it has the resources to invest in patients, communities and workers."
While Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson said he still hopes to avoid a strike, the organization is "preparing to deal with all scenarios to make sure our members are cared for."
Kaiser Permanente said the last deal it offered union representatives is better than a separate deal for workers at healthcare-provider Dignity Health touted by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), one of the biggest labor groups in the Kaiser union coalition. Kaiser's proposal would guarantee wage increases of 3% across the board each year through 2022 for both northern and southern California workers, preserve an existing pension plan and create a $40 million workforce development fund.
"While the Kaiser Permanente management team was actively engaged in negotiations at the bargaining table today, SEIU-UHW released a strike announcement – an overt effort to gain leverage in bargaining," the Kaiser CEO said in a statement. "This has been an ongoing pattern during this entire process with SEIU-UHW, as they believe that an aggressive approach such as using negative corporate campaigning and threats of strike is the way to get a better offer than what our other unions have received."
"To be clear, Kaiser Permanente has presented a contract proposal that would provide annual pay increases that would keep our employees compensated at higher than market averages and maintain excellent benefits," Kaiser Permanente said in a statement in early August. "Contrary to the union's claims, there are no pay cuts and no changes to our employees' defined pension benefit under our proposal."
The coalition of unions says it wants a new national agreement that would protect middle-class jobs, restore a true worker-management partnership, ensure safe staffing and compassionate use of technology, build the workforce of the future to deal with major projected shortages of licensed and accredited staff in the coming years.
"They have the resources," SEIU-UHW spokesperson Sean Wherley told FOX Business on Thursday. "They could resolve this today. Instead, their focus has moved over the years from a community-based nonprofit to one focused on piling huge profits and enriching top executives. All the while, they are raising rates on patients, they are underserving patients on Medicaid, and they're attacking the same workers who have made the company so successful."
This post has been updated with a response from Kaiser Permanente.