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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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Kaiser braces for possible health care worker strike involving thousands in Washington

Pharmacy technicians already on strike; larger action could happen Wednesday

By , Columbian staff writer

A labor contract for thousands of health care workers across California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington, D.C., expired Saturday night, laying the groundwork for what would be the biggest health care strike in U.S. history.

More than 75,000 health care workers could strike from Wednesday through Saturday if a new labor agreement is not reached before then.

Members of Service Employees International Union Local 49 are prepared to strike at two Southwest Washington locations starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday, including: at the Kaiser Permanente Cascade Park Medical Office, 12607 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., and the Kaiser Permanente Longview-Kelso Medical Office at 1230 Seventh Ave.

Kaiser has 12.7 million members and serves 643,039 clients in Washington, according to its website. The union coalition represents around 40 percent of Kaiser health care workers; doctors and dentists will not participate in any strike and Kaiser medical facilities and pharmacies will remain open, though patients may experience longer wait times or have to reschedule appointments.

United Food and Comercial Workers Local 555, which represents pharmacy technicians in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, went out on a strike that started Sunday and could last through Oct. 21. The Salmon Creek and Orchards outpatient pharmacies have been temporarily closed. An updated list of closures is available on a Kaiser website.

Kaiser health care workers in Washington are members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents more than 85,000 health care workers across the nation. Service Employees International Union Local 49 represents more than 15,000 health care workers in Southwest Washington and Oregon, including nursing assistants, technicians, housekeeping staff, physical therapists, social workers and community resources specialists.

Union representatives said there have been good discussions with Kaiser to address raising shift differentials, fair remote work agreements and investments in training for both current employees community members. However, the union said the two sides remain far apart on important issues, including across-the-board raises, protections against subcontracting staffing shortages.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions are asking for a 6.5 percent raise in the first two years of the labor contract and a 5.75 percent raise in the next two years. According to the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, the largest union in the coalition, Kaiser Permanente offered a 4 percent raise for the first two years and a 3 percent raise for the next two years.

If a resolution isn’t reached after the upcoming strike on Wednesday, SEIU-UHW said the coalition is ready to begin a longer strike in November, when a separate contract expires for some unionized employees in Washington.

“Frontline health care workers see patient care in crisis every day. We know that the crisis cannot be solved unless Kaiser executives follow the law and take dramatic action now to solve the crisis by investing in its workforce,” said Megan Mayes, patient access representative at Westside Medical Center. “We’re prepared to take action to solve the Kaiser short staffing crisis and to keep our patients safe.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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