Kaiser health care workers vote to strike

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Speaker 1: (00:01)

Negotiations break down and Kaiser health care workers vote to

Speaker 2: (00:04)

Strike. You know, we’re talking about people all up and down, California here, you know, 32,000 workers.

Speaker 1: (00:10)

I’m Maureen Kavanaugh. This is KPBS mid-day edition. The San Diego Mexico border officially reopens Monday, and some travelers will be asked about their vaccination status.

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And you should also have proof of your vaccination status in case the officer asks not all travelers will be asked for proof of vaccination

Speaker 1: (00:41)

And a puppet named Andre and a hip hop Nutcracker highlight our weekend preview that’s ahead on midday edition Contract negotiations between Kaiser and his healthcare workers union have stalled. So the employees have issued a notice to strike. That means if an agreement isn’t reached up to 32,000 Kaiser nurses and other healthcare workers will go out on strike in 10 days, union members object to the small wage hike offered by Kaiser. Some claiming the amount is an insult to the work they did during the pandemic. Joining me is Matt Hoffman, KPBS health reporter, and Matt. Welcome. Hey Maureen, what is Kaiser offering in these negotiations?

Speaker 2: (01:37)

Kaiser said that they just recently put out an updated proposal to these nurses and these other healthcare workers. I’m saying that they’re offering as much as a 4% a year in pay increases with no takeaways to their, uh, what they call market leading benefits and their retirement programs. Now the union, uh, they want a 4% across the board raises. Um, but they say that this proposal, um, you know, sort of raises the 1% wage proposal for current employees to 2%. So sort of reading between the lines. There may be some employees could qualify for this 4%, but a lot of them obviously would not. They call this most recent, uh, proposal, uh, something of a Trojan horse, uh, to push through this two tier wage proposal. Um, that’s sort of the crux of a lot of this arguing.

Speaker 1: (02:21)

And tell us about this two tiered wage structure that Kaiser is proposing. What would that entail?

Speaker 2: (02:25)

Yeah, so the two tier wage structure, as I understand it, you know, talking with union representatives, um, is that, um, after a certain date, you know, next couple of years, uh, new employees, new nurses and other healthcare workers, uh, would be hired at a lower cost than existing healthcare workers. And the union says, Hey, you know, that affects everybody from current healthcare workers to future healthcare workers. Um, and they even say patients to, um, you know, sort of saying that, uh, not only does it reduce, um, their bargaining power, uh, but it creates division in terms of having, you know, some nurses that are getting paid a certain rate and other new that are getting paid a lower rate. Um, but Kaiser says that the challenge that they’re trying to address here as the increasingly unaffordable cost of healthcare, and they say that wages and benefits account for half of their operational costs. And they basically say that they’re asking their labor partners to address the problem and, and sort of, you know, come to an agreement here that can, uh, make employment, uh, at Kaiser viable for a long way to go. Uh, they also say that a lot of their employees, just the way that Kaiser is structured with their pay, um, some employees are earning, you know, 25, 20 6% above market average, um, in some places, uh, at about 38%.

Speaker 1: (03:35)

So many people regard healthcare workers as heroes during the pandemic, Kaiser has gotten a lot of criticism over these wage offers. I’m wondering, what does the union want? Have they submitted a proposed wage high?

Speaker 2: (03:48)

Yeah, so the union says that they want 4% across the board raises for the next few years. And they feel like that that is a fair number. Um, considering that the amount of revenue that Kaiser brings in, you know, still saying that they were very, uh, viable, uh, during the pandemic in these tough times. Um, and then you have Kaiser under their hand saying that their proposal, when we talk about this two tier Wade system, um, and everything else aims to slow the significant over market growth and compensation. Um, so they, they say that, you know, that they need to propose this to make employment, uh, feasible at Kaiser. Um, for years to come.

Speaker 1: (04:22)

Now, nurses, as you say, are involved in the union, that’s issued the strike notice are doctors also threatening to strike?

Speaker 2: (04:29)

No doctors are not threatening to strike as part of this, but you know, we’re talking about people all up and down California here, you know, 32,000 workers. I mean, sort of, as you mentioned too, it’s not just nurses, but we’re talking about pharmacists, midwives, physical and occupational therapists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and others. So really a broad swath of people here

Speaker 1: (04:50)

Far reaching what a strike like this be. I mean, how would patients be effected if the Kaiser health care workers really do go out on strike?

Speaker 2: (04:58)

Yeah. So this strike would be I’m up and down California and even in some other areas as well too. You know, I, I sort of just mentioned the number, uh, nearly 32,000 Kaiser Permanente workers. So this would be a pretty large strike. Um, and it’s been sort of bubbling up here for a little bit. They’ve been trying to go shoot this over the last few months. Um, and Kaiser says that, that they are getting ready, you know, if, and when that needs to happen, uh, they said that their managers will, will step up here. Um, and if needed, they will bring in, you know, contingency staff, uh, to be able to maintain care for patients

Speaker 1: (05:29)

And contract negotiations been in the works for a while over Kaiser.

Speaker 2: (05:33)

Yeah. It really started heating up in September. And then, um, just, you know, almost about a month ago in, uh, early October mid-October, um, the strike vote was authorized and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to go on strike. Um, but now obviously they’ve said that the 15th is the day that they are going to go on strike. Um, and basically saying, you know, why, why Kaiser while Kaiser is coming to the table with, you know, some things, funding, some programs, um, some, some boards and committees, um, that they’re not, um, you know, they’re not addressing the two tier weight system that they think is very, very problematic and they want to see those across the board wage wage increases for everyone.

Speaker 1: (06:08)

So is there any indication that the Kaiser health care workers may actually go through with their strike, their style?

Speaker 2: (06:13)

I mean, there is still time to reach a deal, right? I mean, Kaiser says that they’ve been meeting regularly since September and believe that an agreement that meets the interest of everyone is possible. Um, but obviously we have the strike, not only the strike vote authorization, but then we have the strike date. Um, and actually if you go to the union’s website, there’s sort of an FAQ page with, you know, where to be at what time, how you can help. Um, so it seems like all indications are pointing to that. A strike is going to happen. Um, but obviously we still have a little bit more than a week. Um, so you never know what could happen at the barking table. I’ve been

Speaker 1: (06:44)

Speaking with Matt Hoffman, KPBS health reporter, Matt.

Speaker 2: (06:47)

Thank you. Thanks Maureen.

Speaker 1: (06:59)

After 19 months of a non-essential travel ban, the U S Mexico border will finally reopen Monday, but as KPBS reporters, Gustavo Solis and Alexandra, Ron have found the reopening will come with long waits and bureaucratic hassles.

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