Kaiser Permanente patients may be affected as over 75,000 workers could go on strike if negotiations over labor contracts for unionized workers are not finalized on Tuesday.
Discussions between the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions and the healthcare provider have been unsuccessful so far as workers say they’re struggling with a staffing crisis that is affecting the quality of patient care.
Workers are asking for across-the-board pay increases, retiree medical plans and protections against subcontracting and outsourcing.
Across the nation, workers are ready to walk off the job for three days starting Wednesday at 6 a.m. in what has been described as potentially the largest healthcare worker strike in U.S. history.
SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West announced on Sept. 14 that 98% of its members voted to approve the Oct. 4-6 strike in protest of “unfair labor practices.”
Kaiser Permanente is the largest nonprofit healthcare provider in the U.S. It reported profits topping $3 billion in the first six months of 2023, according to the Associated Press.
With the potential strike looming, some patients are concerned, wondering how this will impact their personal healthcare services and procedures including surgeries, doctor visits, emergencies and medication.
A Kaiser executive told KTLA that in Southern California, all hospitals and emergency rooms will remain open during the strike. Pharmacies will also stay open and Kaiser Permanente officials said they are working to keep urgent care centers in operation.
The healthcare system said it is trying to avoid or minimize any impacts with doctor appointments, but if there are any changes or cancellations, patients will be notified.
For non-urgent surgeries or procedures, they may possibly be postponed.
“We are not approaching it from blanket cancellations at all,” said Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Regional President of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of Southern California and Hawaii. “We will be looking individually at what we can accommodate given the preparations that we’ve made and as we make those decisions, we will reach out individually to those that we may need to cancel, but I don’t want to send any messages that we are doing blanket cancellations of surgeries or appointments.”
Gaskill-Hames said critical surgeries and procedures will not be affected by any strike action.
“We’re committed to our employees,” Gaskill-Hames said.”We are committed to supporting them with fair wages, great benefits, their own growth and development. We are equally committed to our members and making sure that healthcare is affordable. We want to deal with the affordability crisis as well, and so all of those things are coming to bear as we work our way through to make sure we continue to take great care of our employees and also patients and our members.”
Kaiser and the coalition last negotiated a contract in 2019, a year before healthcare workers were put onto the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and forced to work through worsening conditions.
“There have been good discussions with Kaiser on a number of issues,” said a statement from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. “While there is no concrete agreement, we can see a path to resolution on raising shift differentials, a fair remote work agreement, and investments in training for both current employees to promote to harder to fill jobs and community members to become the healthcare workforce needed for the future.”
On Tuesday night, Kaiser Permanente said in a statement:
“Bargaining between Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions is ongoing, and several agreements over specific provisions have been reached. Our team is available 24/7 to continue bargaining with the Coalition until we reach a fair and equitable agreement. We remain optimistic that there is still time to find agreement before any of the work stoppages called by the Coalition unions begin at 6 a.m. on Wednesday.”
Patients can visit kp.org for more information on closures that may affect their specific community or region.