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Kaiser Permanente sympathy strikes expected | Here's what you need to know

Thousands of Kaiser employees could walk off the job in sympathy strikes.
Credit: ABC10

CALIFORNIA, USA — After some big strikes from Kaiser Permanente workers were averted in the past few days, thousands of workers could walk off the job for sympathy strikes.

The sympathy strikes come in support of Local 39 Operating Engineers, who have been on strike themselves for nearly two months. Jobs affected by the potential strike vote include optometrists, clinical laboratory scientists, respiratory and x-ray technicians, licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians, phlebotomists, medical assistants, and housekeepers, among hundreds of other positions.

Kaiser told ABC10 that they've bargaining in good faith with the engineer's union and are optimistic that they can resolve the issues at the bargaining table. They don't believe the situation calls for a sympathy strike.

"We question why leaders of other unions are asking their members to walk out on patients on Nov. 18 and 19 in sympathy for Local 39. This will not bring us closer to an agreement and most important, it is unfair to our members and patients to disrupt their care when they most need our employees to be there for them," Kaiser said, in part, in a statement to ABC10.

Here's what you need to know.

What's Going On?

The Local 39 is a union of engineers with Kaiser who have been on strike for around two months. A number of unions who already have contracts set with Kaiser plan to have sympathy strikes in support of Local 39.

According to Kaiser, these groups include SEIU-UHW, Local 20, Local 29, California Nurses Association, and NUHW.  The SEIU-UHW, Local 20, Local 29 are expected to have their sympathy strike on Thursday and the California Nurses Association and NUHW sympathy strike is expected for Friday.

“We are sympathy striking because Kaiser has lost its way and is putting its drive for profits over people, hurting our patients and union co-workers. The Local 39 engineers play a critical role in maintaining our facilities and the equipment we use to take care of patients,” said Ethan Ruskin, a health educator at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Jose. “Kaiser needs to put patients first and deliver a fair contract to the engineers.”

While there have been recent reports of averted strikes, these were related to different unions, specifically the Alliance of Healthcare Unions and the Guild of Professional Pharmacists.

"As one of the largest health care union employers in the United States — with nearly 75% of our employees working under collective bargaining agreements — we fully understand solidarity among unions. But given the demands of Local 39, on top of the already market-leading compensation and highest retirement benefit of any represented employee in our organization, we believe that sympathy strikes are not appropriate in this case. We are asking our staff to choose to be there for our patients, and to come to work," Kaiser said, in part.

What are the impacts?

Kaiser said some non-urgent medical appointments or procedures could be affected by the strike, but they noted that they will not postpone any urgent care, emergency care, or critical medical appointments.

Kaiser is also encouraging members to schedule appointments if they need lab, optometry or radiology services since some locations could be temporarily closed or operating with reduced hours. 

Some outpatient pharmacies could also be temporarily closed on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19, however, their mail delivery pharmacy will stay open during a potential strike. If a prescription is needed and the outpatient pharmacy is closed, Kaiser staff will tell members how to fill their prescription at an open Kaiser pharmacy or retail pharmacy.

Hospitals and emergency departments will remain open.

Where and when are these strikes happening?

The sympathy strikes are expect on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. The locations for the SEIU-UHW, OPEIU Local 29, and IFPTE Local 20 include the following:

  • ANTIOCH: Kaiser Permanente Antioch Medical Center, 4501 Sand Creek Rd, Antioch CA 94531
  • FREMONT: Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center, 39400 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94538
  • FRESNO: Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center, 7300 N Fresno St, Fresno, CA 93720
  • MANTECA: Kaiser Permanente Manteca Medical Center, 1777 W. Yosemite Avenue, Manteca, 95337
  • MODESTO: Kaiser Permanente Modesto Medical Center, 4601 Dale Road, Modesto, CA 95356
  • OAKLAND: Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, 3600 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611
  • REDWOOD CITY: Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center, 1150 Veterans Blvd, Redwood City, CA 94063
  • RICHMOND: Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center, 901 Nevin Ave., Richmond, CA 94801
  • ROSEVILLE: Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, 1600 Eureka Rd, Roseville, CA 95661
  • SACRAMENTO: Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Medical Center, 2025 Morse Ave, Sacramento, 95825
  • SOUTH SACRAMENTO: Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, 6600 Bruceville Road, Sacramento, CA 95823
  • SAN FRANCISCO: Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center, 2425 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA
  • SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO: Kaiser Permanente South San Francisco Medical Center, 1200 El Camino Real, S. San Francisco, CA 94080
  • SAN JOSE: Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, 250 Hospital Parkway, San Jose, CA 95119
  • SAN LEANDRO: Kaiser Permanente San Leandro Medical Center, 2500 Merced St, San Leandro, CA 94577
  • SANTA CLARA: Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center, 710 Lawrence Expressway, Santa Clara CA 95051
  • SANTA ROSA: Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center, 401 Bicentennial Way, Santa Rosa, 95403
  • STOCKTON: Kaiser Permanente Stockton Medical Center, 7373 West Lane, Stockton CA 95210
  • VACAVILLE: Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center, 1 Quality Dr, Vacaville, CA 95688
  • VALLEJO: Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center, 975 Sereno Drive, Vallejo, CA 94589
  • WALNUT CREEK: Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center, 1425 S Main St, Walnut Creek, CA

A full statement from Kaiser Permanente is available below.

We are extremely grateful for all our frontline health care workforce, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring. We recently reached successful agreements with dozens of unions that represent more than 60,000 Kaiser Permanente employees that demonstrate our commitment to providing excellent wages and benefits for all employees while meeting our commitment to delivering high-quality, affordable care for our members and patients. These are market-leading contracts, reached through constructive and reasonable bargaining.

Bargaining with Local 39 IUOE

Kaiser Permanente has been bargaining in good faith with Local 39 IUOE, the union that represents about 600 Kaiser Permanente operating engineers, for several months. The union decided to call a strike and have kept employees out for more than two months. We are offering Local 39 employees wages that are similar to our other employees’ and that, on top of Local 39’s generous medical and the richest retirement benefits, will keep our engineers among the best compensated in their profession, at an average of more than $180,000 in total wages and benefits. We are not proposing any take-aways and our proposals do not differentiate between current and future employees. But union leadership wants more, asking for unreasonable increases far beyond any other union at Kaiser Permanente.

We are optimistic that we can resolve the remaining issues with Local 39 at the bargaining table and reach an agreement that continues to reward our employees and supports health care affordability, just as we have with several unions this week. 

Sympathy strikes

As one of the largest health care union employers in the United States — with nearly 75% of our employees working under collective bargaining agreements — we fully understand solidarity among unions. But given the demands of Local 39, on top of the already market-leading compensation and highest retirement benefit of any represented employee in our organization, we believe that sympathy strikes are not appropriate in this case. We are asking our staff to choose to be there for our patients, and to come to work.

We question why leaders of other unions are asking their members to walk out on patients on Nov. 18 and 19 in sympathy for Local 39. This will not bring us closer to an agreement and most important, it is unfair to our members and patients to disrupt their care when they most need our employees to be there for them.

Several unions have submitted sympathy strike notices: SEIU-UHW, Local 20, and Local 29 on Thursday, November 18 and the California Nurses Association, Friday, November 19. Kaiser Permanente is not in bargaining with these unions and each has a current contract. In fact, we have informed SEIU-UHW, Local 20, and Local 29 union leaders that we believe in accordance with their contracts, these sympathy strikes are not protected by law.

We are also in bargaining with NUHW, the union that represents our mental health professionals. NUHW has announced a one-day strike for Friday, November 19.

We have taken steps to ensure that our members and patients will continue to receive high-quality, safe care and service should these strikes occur.

We have prepared thoroughly to care for our patients in the event of a strike and are working diligently to reduce the impact.

  • During the strike, care will be provided by physicians and experienced clinical managers and staff, with the support of trained and qualified contingency staff.
  • Some non-urgent medical appointments or procedures may be affected, and we will reach out to patients to reschedule or convert appointments to phone or video if that is appropriate. We will not postpone any urgent or emergency care, or critical medical appointments.
  • We encourage members to schedule an appointment should they need lab, optometry, or radiology services this week as some of our locations will be temporarily closed or operating with reduced hours. If a member has an urgent need for services, they should call the Appointment and Advice Call Center, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 
  • Some outpatient pharmacies will be temporarily closed from Nov. 18 and 19.  If a member does not need their refill right away, any closed pharmacies will reopen on Saturday, Nov. 20.Our Mail Delivery pharmacy will remain open during the strike to order refills at kp.org or by phone.
  • In the event an urgent prescription is needed and the outpatient pharmacy is closed, Kaiser Permanente staff will provide members with direction on how to fill their prescription at an open Kaiser Permanente pharmacy or at a retail pharmacy. Hospital pharmacies for inpatient care and critical infusion services will remain in operation. 
  • All our hospitals and emergency departments will continue to be open during a strike and remain safe places to receive care. 

 As this is an evolving situation, we will continue to communicate directly with our members and post updates on kp.org as they are available.

 We are very sorry for any disruption members may experience as we take steps to ensure that we continue to provide high-quality, safe care during this union strike. 

 Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States.

 Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor. Labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to provide more people with access to high-quality care and to make care more affordable.

 It’s unconscionable that union leaders would ask health care workers to walk away from the patients who need them and deliberately disrupt their care. 

WATCH ALSO: 

Strike captain explains why Kaiser Permanente engineers still holding out

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