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Sept. 26, 2020

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Health professionals picket Kaiser Permanente in Vancouver

Informal picket held in anticipation of Sept. 30 deadline for contract negotiations

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Picketers support the expansion of Kaiser’s medical staff, which would mean patients could get seen quicker, and also spend more time with their health care professionals.
Picketers support the expansion of Kaiser’s medical staff, which would mean patients could get seen quicker, and also spend more time with their health care professionals. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Drivers signaled support with their horns to the nearly 50 people gathered at an informational picket Tuesday outside the Kaiser Permanente Cascade Park Medical Office in east Vancouver.

The demonstration was in support of the more than 4,000 nurses, techs, and health professionals represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, who are currently in contract negotiations with Kaiser Permanente.

OFNHP President Adrienne Enghouse said the picketing, which is not a strike or work stoppage, was aimed at enforceable staffing standards. Those who participated did so during work breaks or days off.

The OFNHP’s complaints, Enghouse said, center on Kaiser signaling that it might get rid of pensions for new hires and move to a 401(k) system. The OFNHP also wants Kaiser to expand staff at its medical locations.

“What we’ve seen is an erosion of our ability to care for patients the way that we as professionals believe they should be cared for,” Enghouse said. “Kaiser, as it has grown and grown and grown, they have just refused to expand the number of people that do the job. They’re refusing to listen to us.”

Kaiser said it respects and values its nurses, “who are the best in health care,” in a statement emailed to The Columbian. The Kaiser statement said that its “first priority is always the health and safety of our patients, members and employees.”   

“In June we began regional bargaining with OFNHP AFT Local 5017, and negotiations are underway,” the statement said. “We remain deeply committed to working together with union leadership to create a successful labor-management partnership that supports our mission of delivering high-quality, affordable care to our members and improving the health of the communities we serve.”

Enghouse said that the OFNHP would like shorter wait times for patients to get care. She added that they would also like medical professionals to have more time with patients.

“If we’re out here, there’s something very wrong in there,” Enghouse said in reference to medical centers. “There’s no unicorns and rainbows in there if we’re standing on the street. You just don’t get nurses and health care professionals out here when things are great inside.”

The OFNHP’s contract with Kaiser expires Sept. 30. Enghouse said Kaiser is “stalling” at the negotiating table. If they reach the deadline without a deal, OFNHP can renew the contract for 30 days, not renew and work without a contract or go on strike, which would require a membership vote.

“They have made over $2 billion this year for a nonprofit. The math doesn’t add up,” Enghouse said of Kaiser. “They’re not hiring enough employees. They’re not giving us the conditions to take care of our patients the way we see fit.”   

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