On January 3rd, the nurses and healthcare professionals at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon and Southwest Washington filed a notice of an intent to hold a picket at Sunnyside Medical Center on the afternoon of January 13th. These healthcare workers, who are members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), AFT Local 5017, are picketing over what they say are critically low staffing levels that have created a harmful situation for healthcare professionals and, if they continue, will spell disaster for patient care.
“As hospital admissions rise, healthcare workers are so understaffed that we can’t provide the care our community needs,” says RN Bargaining Unit Chair Joshua Holt, who notes that this is part of a long-term issue with Kaiser’s ability to attract and retain qualified staff. “The staffing crisis is the result of Kaiser’s decisions and pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is entirely up to them to fix this problem and ensure safe staffing levels.”
Governor Kate Brown’s office issued a State of Emergency last month in response to increases of COVID and respiratory infections, which put further strain on healthcare workers across the state by giving hospitals the ability to push past staffing limits. This only accelerated an already critical staffing crisis, and while our hospitals are flooded with patients this is only pushing our workers to the breaking point. The picket on January 13th launches a campaign to push Kaiser to effectively increase our staffing levels by at least fifteen percent, which is what is necessary to simply meet the standards set forth in our union contract. This picket will occur directly before a weekend that has, over the past two years, proven to be a COVID transmission peak.
The union is demanding to bargain with Kaiser leadership over the consequences of our current conditions, and expects Kaiser to present a plan to fill the fifteen percent gap in staffing. These are the same Kaiser issues that pushed what could have been the largest healthcare strike in American history in 2021, and will be a long-term demand as OFNHP escalates its campaign to eliminate the staffing crisis.