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Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers to protest on Labor Day in Oakland

The workers are protesting what they see as the healthcare giant's unfair labor practices.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

With more than 80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers set to strike nationwide in early October in the largest walkout in more than two decades, thousands of them -- along with patients, clergy, elected leaders and community allies -- will protest at 10 a.m., Monday, September 2 at Mosswood Park in Oakland, California, near the site of Kaiser Permanente's headquarters.

The workers are protesting what they see as the healthcare giant's unfair labor practices; they perceive a away shift from prioritizing patients and the community, and toward profits and enriching top executives.

Following the 30-minute rally, workers will march to the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, 3600 Broadway in Oakland, where dozens of them are expected to engage in civil disobedience by blocking an intersection near the facility.

Similar Labor Day protests of Kaiser Permanente workers will be held in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Denver and Portland, Oregon, where thousands more combined are expected to demonstrate against Kaiser Permanente.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

While Kaiser Permanente is a nonprofit, it has reported profits of $11 billion since Jan. 1, 2017, including $5.2 billion just in the first half of 2019, according to the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. In addition, it has amassed more than $37 billion in reserves and pays at least 36 executives more than $1 million annually.

The strike would begin in early October and affect more than 80,000 Kaiser Permanente employees nationwide, of which 66,000 are based in California. It would be the largest walkout since 185,000 Teamsters went on strike at United Parcel Service in 1997.

In December 2018, the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser Permanente with failing to bargain in good faith.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions comprises unions in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Their national contract with Kaiser Permanente expired September 30, 2018.

Workers are fighting for a new contract that would, among other things, ensure safe staffing and the compassionate use of technology; build a workforce that can handle projected shortages of licensed and accredited staff in coming years; and offer stronger wages and benefits.

THE LARGER TREND

Legislation requiring healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente to follow more of the same financial disclosure laws as other healthcare providers in California passed the Senate Monday and now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has 10 days to decide whether to sign it into law.

The bill, SB 343, would require Kaiser Permanente to provide more data about the revenue and profits of individual hospitals, whereas now it lumps those figures for all facilities into two broad categories: "Northern California" and "Southern California." Of the roughly 400 hospitals operating in California, all but the 35 owned by Kaiser Permanente must comply with financial reporting requirements on a per-facility basis.

ON THE RECORD

"On the one day meant to recognize working people, it's a shame that Kaiser Permanente is attacking the same employees who made it successful in the first place," said Isis Acevedo, a schedule maintenance clerk at Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco. "We reject what Kaiser has become, and instead urge the corporation to join us in the fight to provide quality patient care and protect good, middle-class jobs that America needs."

John Nelson, vice president of communications at Kaiser Permanente, said his organization has been working with the union toward a mutually beneficial agreement, as part of national bargaining that began in April.

Nelson said the union leadership "engaged in a concerted campaign to misrepresent Kaiser Permanente's bargaining proposal, even though that proposal is the result of collaborative bargaining with the union's leaderip."

He said Kaiser Permanente has presented a contract proposal that would provie annual pay increases that would keep workers compensated higher than market averages. He said no pensions or retirement benefits would be taken away.

"At a time when we are working hard to keep our care affordable, the Coalition's demands are not fair to our members and the communities we serve," said Nelson. "Coalition-represented employees are already compensated 23% above market rates -- we pay well but we will not allow further escalation above the market as we have some markets where our wage rates are challenging our ability to be affordable."
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com