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Kaiser Permanente braces for looming widespread strike of pharmacists, healthcare workers, engineers

Friday marked the 56th day Kaiser Local 39 engineers have been out on the picket line over disagreements during contract negotiations.
Credit: ABC10
Local 39 union engineers walk the picket line outside of Kaiser's South Sacramento location.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kaiser Permanente is encouraging patients to get their prescriptions refilled soon, ahead of a pharmacist strike. 

The Guild for Professional Pharmacists is planning a one-week strike starting on Monday, Nov. 15. 

They will be joining another labor union, Local 39, which is made up of Kaiser's stationary and biomedical engineers.

As of Friday, Local 39 has already been out on the picket line for 56 days over disagreements during contract negotiations.

“We didn’t ask for anything special, we knuckled down, we did the job, we protected the patients, we risked our own lives to make sure that people had access to healthcare and then to be treated like this coming out, is truly a slap in the face," Shane Mortensen, a district representative for Stationary Engineers Local 39 said.

Kaiser says they were informed that several other unions made up of nurses and health care workers will be joining in, doing one-day "sympathy strikes" throughout the week.

"We're hoping that together, which unions should do, is come together, stand together and we all can win in that respect, or it's not even about winning or losing, it's about supporting each other and all of us together having good working conditions, staffing, pay increases, decent pay," Randy Newell, the Assistant Chief Engineer for Kaiser in South Sacramento said.

Kaiser officials are now asking their patients to plan ahead and get prescriptions filled before Monday.

“The community deserves better than that, it’s really a life or death situation, I mean some people need their medications badly and they’re the community that Kaiser says they support so much," Newell said.

On Friday Kaiser Permanente released a statement in response to the strikes:

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. Currently in Northern California, Kaiser Permanente is bargaining in good faith with some of our labor unions, including the Guild for Professional Pharmacists and Local 39 Operating Engineers.

Unfortunately, some union leaders use strikes as a bargaining tactic and that's what's happening right now – despite excellent proposals put forth by Kaiser Permanente that would keep our pharmacists and engineers among the highest paid in the nation. The Guild for Professional Pharmacists has announced plans for a strike from Monday, November 15 through the morning of Monday, November 22.  We have also received notices from several other unions, for one-day strikes by nurses and other health care workers to support our Local 39 operating engineers who remain on strike, which will take place Thursday, November 18 and Friday, November 19.

As always, our first priority is our members and patients and we have taken steps to ensure they will continue to receive high-quality, safe care and service.

We have prepared thoroughly to care for our patients in the event of a strike, but there will be some impact, which we are working to minimize. During the strike, care will be provided by experienced clinical staff and physicians, with the support of trained and qualified contingency staff.

As this is an evolving situation, we will continue to communicate directly with our members and post updates on kp.org, including the following:

We will provide members with instructions on how to get Pharmacy services they need in the event of a strike, when outpatient pharmacies will be closed. 

Some medical appointments or procedures may be affected, and we will reach out to patients in advance to reschedule if that is needed. We also encourage members to schedule an appointment should they need lab or radiology services during the next week.

All our hospitals and emergency departments will continue to be open during a strike and remain safe places to receive care.

It's disappointing that union leaders would ask nurses, pharmacists, and other health care workers to walk away from the patients that depend upon them every day and deliberately disrupt their care. We sincerely apologize to our members for any inconvenience.

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.

We believe the bargaining table is the best place to resolve issues – we are confident we will reach agreement with Local 39 and the Pharmacy Guild quickly and look forward to welcoming our valued staff back to work. 

Local 39 strike:

Local 39 is the union which represents several hundred operating engineers in Northern California. We are in active bargaining with Local 39. The engineers represented by Local 39 are among the highest paid in their profession in the country, earning total compensation (wages, benefits, and retirement) of more than $180,000 a year – including retirement benefits twice that of anyone in the Kaiser Permanente represented workforce. We are offering a reasonable wage increase, and no takeaways, but the union is demanding much more. As a bargaining tactic, the union has called an open-ended strike, seeking a significant increase in wages.

We made extensive preparations so that during this strike, engineering duties are handled by skilled and experienced engineers, including those brought in from Kaiser Permanente facilities in other regions across the country. In addition, they are being supported by qualified contractors and equipment specialists, all of whom have been appropriately prepared for this work.

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