Nearly 3,400 workers from Kaiser Permanente in Oregon and Southwest Washington formally announced that they will be walking out on strike due to the harmful proposals put forward by Kaiser leadership during union contract negotiations. This announcement means that the union, the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP, AFT Local 5017) will be putting in a ten day notice with Kaiser, and unless negotiations improve, workers will strike at 6:00 a.m. on November 15th. They will be joined by a total of 32,000 other Kaiser workers striking around the same date, and an additional 8,000 may follow shortly after across a total of five states.
“We hoped that simply authorizing the strike, holding rallies and other forms of collective worker and community action would push Kaiser to do the right thing, but they have continued to push proposals that would create dangerous conditions for patients and staff,” says Jodi Barschow, a Kaiser Sunnyside RN and President of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, AFT, AFL-CIO (OFNHP), the union that represents Kaiser workers. “Striking is our last resort, but it is what we must do so that we can protect our patients, our workers, and our entire public healthcare system from the disastrous attack Kaiser leadership is staging.”
The 3,400 Oregon and Southwest Washington workers, which include RNs, “Pros” such as Nurse Practitioners and Physician’s Assistants, and Lab Professionals, will be joined by a total of 32,000 healthcare professionals across five states as the strike spreads around the country. OFNHP negotiates over nationwide issues as part of the Alliance of Healthcare Unions, a coalition of 21 unions representing a total of 52,000 workers. A staggering 96% of voting OFNHP members chose to authorize a strike on October 11th after unanimous recommendations from all bargaining teams.
The primary issues relate to lack of adequate staffing, which has reached crisis levels at Kaiser and in other healthcare settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that more than a half a million workers have left healthcare since the beginning of the pandemic. Instead of presenting proposals to solve the staffing crisis, Kaiser executives have offered low wages and a “two tiered” system that would mean new workers would make much less than their colleagues. This would accelerate the staffing crisis, ensuring dangerous conditions in hospitals and clinics around Oregon. Kaiser RNs and other healthcare professionals have filled out a survey asking how they are responding to the crisis. 42.2% of those surveyed report that they are considering leaving the field entirely over the treatment they have received at Kaiser. Over 60% report they are considering leaving Kaiser Permanente as a company. Kaiser has made inaccurate claims that its workers are paid above market rate, but in reality their current offers amount to a pay cut that would pull them below the market average.
On September 28th, nearly 800 people rallied in front of Kaiser’s corporate office in Portland, with union members joined by dozens of organizations and hundreds of supporters. Secretary of State Shemia Fagen led the rally, and thirty-two state legislators and state senators, led by Kaiser physician Dr. Maxine Dexter, issued a letter of support for the union workers and their fight for safe staffing and a fair contract. The Oregon Nurses Association, another nurses union representing over 15,000 health professionals in Oregon, recently announced that their members will respect the picket line and will not act as replacement workers for Kaiser. The support has only grown as community organizations, faith leaders, and political officials join the fight to push Kaiser towards settling a fair contract and protecting our healthcare system.