More than 75,000 US Kaiser healthcare workers on strike

Martha Canul, foreground, a medical assistant at Kaiser, holds up signs along with medical workers and supporters as they protest outside of a Kaiser Permanente facility in San Francisco, Oct. 4, 2023. [AP Photo]

More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente health care staff across the U.S. began a three-day strike Wednesday, which will likely hold up appointments, test results and prescriptions at locations across the nation.

Kaiser Permanente, a California-based chain of hospitals, pharmacies and clinics, serves nearly 13 million Americans.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents about 85,000 company workers, announced a three-day strike in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state, and a daylong strike in Virginia and Washington, D.C., after contract negotiations stalled overnight.

More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente employees are expected to join in.

Talks restarted Wednesday.

A key complaint from those on the picket line is that understaffing is inundating workers and delaying vital care.

"We're striking for our patients," said Mikki Fletchall, a licensed vocational nurse at a Kaiser clinic in Camarillo, California.

Kaiser Permanente promised that its 39 hospitals, including emergency rooms, would stay open as doctors and many nurses are not picketing. But non-emergency procedures could be delayed and wait times on customer service calls could soar.

Kaiser workers' unions demanded a $25 hourly minimum wage in August followed by increases of 7% in the next two years and 6.25% in the two years after that.

Union members say understaffing is helping Kaiser Permanente reap massive profits at the cost of patients' health, accusing executives of bargaining in bad faith.

Kaiser proposed minimum hourly wages of $21 to $23 in 2024.

Since 2022, Kaiser has hired 51,000 employees and is looking to add 10,000 more before the end of the month.

The hospital system's operating revenue was $25 billion in this year's second quarter, a 7% jump from previous figures. Kaiser credited shrewd investments for its $2.1 billion profit that quarter, which helped the company rebound from a $1.3 billion hit last year.

But the health care giant is still fending off national labor shortages and rising inflation, the company said.

The strike comes in a year that saw laborers in entertainment, hospitality and transportation picket for more competitive contracts. In late September, President Joe Biden joined autoworkers in Michigan on the picket line. Political commentators say his action has emboldened unionists across the nation.