Over 75,000 US Healthcare Workers Go On Strike In Demand For Change

In a historic move, over 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest healthcare providers in the US, have initiated a strike, marking the largest walkout by health workers in the nation’s history.

This three-day work stoppage involves nurses, pharmacists, and lab technicians across five US states and Washington DC. The strike’s ripple effect is expected to impact nearly 13 million patients. The decision to strike comes after prolonged contract negotiations between the unions and Kaiser Permanente reached a standstill.

Despite the strike, hospitals and emergency facilities will remain open throughout the duration of the work stoppage.

The labor agreement between the eight unions forming the coalition and the healthcare company expired on September 30th.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, orchestrating this strike, aims to exert pressure on the California-based company to address staffing shortages that have persisted since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Additionally, they are advocating for improved wages.

In response, Kaiser Permanente released a statement on Wednesday, indicating that significant progress had been made in discussions with the unions overnight, reiterating their commitment to reaching a new agreement.

The strike’s most substantial impact will be felt in California, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington state, where hundreds of essential medical support staff will be on strike for three days. While Kaiser Permanente assures that hospitals and emergency departments will continue to function with the assistance of “contingent workers,” non-essential services like routine check-ups or elective procedures may need to be rescheduled.

In Virginia and Washington DC, approximately 400 pharmacists and optometrists are planning to halt work for a day. Kaiser Permanente has expanded its pharmacy network to ensure continued access to medications if outpatient pharmacies close during the strike.

The unions have repeatedly pointed to Kaiser Permanente’s profits, which reached approximately $3 billion (£2.47 billion) in the first half of this year, as a compelling reason to renegotiate contracts. In a July statement, the coalition also noted that the company’s CEO earns $16 million (£13.18 million) annually, with 49 executives earning over $1 million (£820,000).

Caroline Lucas, the executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, highlighted the inaction of executives over the past six months, which has led to treatment delays. She emphasized that Kaiser Permanente had refused to listen to frontline healthcare workers, prompting them to escalate the issue outside of the hospitals.

Michael Ramey, an ultrasound technician at a Kaiser Permanente facility in San Diego, expressed the strain caused by chronic staffing issues in his role. He stated that the job had become “heartbreaking” and “stressful,” leading to an inability to provide patients with the level of care they deserve. As the head of his local union, Ramey emphasized their willingness to do whatever it takes to secure a contract that addresses staffing concerns.

The Kaiser Permanente strike is part of a wave of high-profile labor actions sweeping across the US this year, including ongoing strikes by the United Auto Workers and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 309,000 workers have gone on strike through August this year alone.

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