Over 75,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers, in the largest-ever U.S. healthcare worker strike, are demanding higher wages and increased staffing due to clinician burnout and shortages. Unionized employees, represented by eight unions, initiated the strike after failed negotiations. Kaiser, a major healthcare provider, vows to keep hospitals operational with contingency workers. The strike reflects a broader trend of labor actions amid post-pandemic challenges, with workers seeking better compensation and improved conditions.
In the largest healthcare worker strike in U.S. history, more than 75,000 unionized employees of Kaiser Permanente have taken to the picket lines. These workers, represented by a coalition of eight unions, are demanding better pay and increased staffing to address ongoing clinician burnout and shortages.
The strike, initiated by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents over 85,000 healthcare workers, began after negotiations with the health system failed to reach an agreement by 6:00 AM PDT. Concerns over inadequate compensation, staffing deficiencies, and clinician fatigue prompted the walkout.
Kaiser Permanente, a major healthcare provider with 39 hospitals nationwide and insurance coverage for nearly 13 million people, is the focal point of this labor action. The strike encompasses a three-day walkout in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, with a one-day strike occurring in Virginia and Washington DC.
Participating workers include licensed vocational nurses, home health aides, ultrasound sonographers, radiology and X-ray technicians, surgical staff, pharmacy personnel, and emergency department workers. Physicians are not part of the strike, except in Virginia and Washington DC, where optometrists and pharmacists are also participating.
Kaiser Permanente has pledged to keep its hospitals and emergency departments operational during the strike by deploying “contingency workers.” The health system reported that negotiations between management and coalition union representatives are ongoing in an effort to reach a resolution.
This strike comes amid a wave of labor actions across various industries in response to the challenges posed by the post-pandemic economy and labor shortages. Healthcare, in particular, has seen a surge in clinician burnout and persistent shortages since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The unions representing Kaiser workers are advocating for improved wages, with a minimum hourly rate of at least $25, and increased staffing by hiring 10,000 new healthcare workers to fill current vacancies. Unionized workers argue that understaffing has contributed to Kaiser Permanente’s profitability while negatively affecting patient care. They also accuse the health system’s executives of engaging in bad faith negotiations, which led to the strike.
During the second quarter of this year, Kaiser Permanente reported $2.1 billion in net income on more than $25 billion in operating revenue. However, like many other U.S. hospital operators, the health system faces challenges such as inflation, labor shortages, and rising expenses.
Kaiser executives have proposed minimum hourly wages ranging from $21 to $23 next year, depending on the location, according to reports by The Associated Press. Michelle Gaskill-Hames, a Kaiser executive, defended the health system’s practices, compensation, and retention rates, stating that they surpass those of its competitors. She emphasized Kaiser’s commitment to investing its revenue in value-based care, citing a low 7 percent turnover rate compared to the industry standard of 21 percent.
It’s worth noting that Kaiser and the unions last negotiated a contract in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.