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News / Health / Clark County Health

Kaiser Health care workers on picket lines for final day; strikes could resume in November

Bargaining set for next week

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 6, 2023, 2:02pm
3 Photos
Judy Brunskill, left, registration representative for Kaiser Permanente, pauses to talk with longtime colleague Brenda Horey, a release of information specialist, as fellow workers strike in front of the Cascade Park Medical Office on the strike's third and final day. Horey, who is dealing with a leg injury and is battling breast cancer, has worked with Brunskill since 1986.
Judy Brunskill, left, registration representative for Kaiser Permanente, pauses to talk with longtime colleague Brenda Horey, a release of information specialist, as fellow workers strike in front of the Cascade Park Medical Office on the strike's third and final day. Horey, who is dealing with a leg injury and is battling breast cancer, has worked with Brunskill since 1986. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Unionized health care employees picketed outside of the Cascade Park Medical Office on Friday morning, entering the third and final day of the nationwide Kaiser Permanente health care strike.

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 49 started picketing bright and early, wearing matching shirts and marching with a variety of handwritten picket signs. Support for health care employees has not wavered over the last three days; the lawn in front of the Mill Plain Boulevard facility was packed with health care workers, their families and people who came out in solidarity.

Nate Orr, 61, member of the SEIU Local 49 bargaining team, said the turnout over the last three days has been an amazing display of strength.

“With striking, it’s giving Kaiser a message that we are real, and we will do what we have to do to get a fair contract,” Orr said. In his 29 years as a medical assistant at the Orchards Medical Office, Orr said the low wages he’s seen among his fellow employees are dangerous and unfair.

“We don’t want our employees to have to get two to three jobs just to make ends meet,” he said. “Kaiser says we are making too much money, and I just don’t see that.”

The picket line at Cascade Park was part of a nationwide strike that began at 6 a.m. Wednesday, when more than 75,000 unionized Kaiser employees across six states walked off the job over what they say are unfair labor practices. Health care workers are asking Kaiser executives to address short staffing levels within its facilities and increase pay to keep up with the rising cost of living.

The union coalition and Kaiser have scheduled a bargaining session for Oct. 12, but the coalition could issue a 10-day warning after Saturday that would prompt another walk out in November.

Brenda Horey, a release of information specialist at Sunnyside Medical Center, believes there is a disconnect between Kaiser executives and health care employees. Horey, who is battling breast cancer and a leg injury, said that would not deter her from standing in solidarity with her brothers and sister.

“We’re the one’s putting in the work for our patients, who are down in the trenches,” Horey said. “Our CEOs are making six and seven figures, but they don’t want to pay their workers. It’s a slap in the face.”

Judy Brunskill, registration representative at Cascade Park, has worked with Horey since 1986. The longtime colleagues said they both feel disregarded by the top level executives. With 38 years of experience, Brunskill said she felt things began to go downhill around 10 years ago.

“We definitely saw a big change in how we were treated by Kaiser years ago. They called us heroes, but they didn’t do anything for us,” she said. “The frontline workers are the ones who keep the patients coming back.”

Contract proposal

Union leaders said negotiations continued until Wednesday, but with no deal reached, eight unions across the country began what is now the biggest health care strike in U.S. history.

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In the most recent contract negotiation, Kaiser Permanente proposed a 5 percent increase in the first three years of a new contract, and a 4 percent raise in the fourth year to all unionized employees. The coalition has countered the offer, proposing a 6.5 percent increase in the first two years, and a 5.75 percent increase in the final two years.

Kaiser has not agreed to the union’s proposal to raise minimum pay to $24 per hour for all unionized employees in 2024.

“We will coordinate with coalition leaders to reconvene bargaining as soon as possible. We will work hard to reach an agreement so that together, we can all return to delivering on the mission of Kaiser Permanente for the benefit of our members, patients, employees, physicians, customers, and communities,” Kaiser said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

Care during strike

Kaiser Permanente said it has plans to ensure patients receive care during the strike and “a strike should not dissuade anyone from seeking necessary care.”

All Kaiser hospitals and emergency departments remain open, but patients may experience longer wait times and have to reschedule appointments as the strike comes to a close.

Currently, the Battleground Medical Office, KP On the Job Columbia Tech Center, Mill Plain One Medical Office and Orchards Medical Office are closed. The Salmon Creek and Orchards outpatient pharmacies are also closed, but an updated list of current closures can be found here.

Chrissy Booker: 360-735-4367 chrissy.booker@columbian.com;

Community Funded Journalism logo

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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