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Southwest Washington Kaiser workers set to strike Monday

Several facilities could be affected if no deal reached by that date

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Kaiser Permanente employees in Southwest Washington are set to strike Nov. 15 unless a deal is reached between union officials and Kaiser management.

A strike could impact multiple facilities in Southwest Washington, including the Salmon Creek, Orchards and Cascade Park medical offices and the Longview-Kelso Medical Office.

When asked for an interview Tuesday, Kaiser officials provided a written statement.

“Kaiser Permanente has a responsibility to be well-prepared for the possibility of a labor disruption,” the statement read. “If a strike occurs, we will keep our hospitals open and continue to care for our members and patients. We will inform our members of any service changes. This could include rescheduling some appointments and surgeries.”

Additionally, Kaiser officials said that in the event of a strike, some facilities and pharmacies may temporarily close and that impacted locations will be listed online along with instructions on how to fill prescriptions and reschedule appointments.

People who need to reschedule appointments will also be contacted by text, phone call or email.

However, Kaiser officials stressed that they are optimistic that an agreement will be reached before Nov. 15.

Strike notice

Nearly 3,400 nurses and other workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike in October, citing concerns over Kaiser’s proposed 1 percent wage increase and two-tiered system that would significantly lower compensation for new hires, as well as inadequate staffing.

Kaiser officials argue that their proposals aim to lower wages because they are currently 26-39 percent above the market average. Union officials say that claim is misleading, and that the cuts would pull wages below the market average.

Unions are required to give Kaiser management 10 days’ notice before striking, which the Oregon Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals – the union representing Oregon and Southwest Washington Kaiser employees – did Nov. 4.

OFNHP was joined by two large West Coast unions representing Kaiser employees. Altogether, the three unions represent some 32,000 employees, and other unions are expected to follow suit, according to a statement from The Alliance of Health Care Unions, a collection of 21 unions representing Kaiser employees.

Shane Burley, an OFNHP spokesperson, estimates that some 40,000 Kaiser employees could go on strike if other unions unaffiliated with the Alliance of Health Care Unions vote to strike as well.

“This could be one of the largest health care strikes in American history,” Burley said.

The Alliance of Health Care Unions wants a 4 percent wage increase and to abandon the proposed two-tiered wage system. Kaiser management has since upped its wage offer to 2 percent, which the Alliance deemed “insulting” in a press release. Negotiations will continue until an agreement is reached, even if a strike takes place.

Broad community support

Union officials are confident that Kaiser will honor their proposals, citing broad community support.

That support was evidenced by the large turnout of union members who voted to approve the strike. For example, 90 percent of voting OFNHP members participated in the strike vote, and it passed with 96 percent approval.

“Those numbers are astounding, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Burley. “We have so much community support. It’s important to support all workers, but I think people see this as their fight, because it’s about whether you can see a doctor. It’s about supporting our nurses who worked so hard through the pandemic.”

Burley said that Kaiser’s proposals could set a dangerous precedent for health care workers nationwide, especially a two-tiered wage system that would lower wages for incoming employees.

“Two-tier systems are like an atom bomb dropped on staffing situations,” Burley said. “There is an absolute crisis happening right now when it comes to staffing hospitals, and this would be like setting it on fire. It will ripple through the entire health care system. I think it’s fair to say that we’re fighting for the future of public health.”

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