Nearly 3,400 workers began a strike authorization vote last night that will determine whether or not one of the biggest healthcare strikes in Oregon’s history takes place in the coming weeks. This strike authorization vote has come after months of dangerous or nonexistent proposals from Kaiser Permanente management, including a “two-tier” compensation proposal that would damage patient care in the future.
“Kaiser claims that we are paid above market rate, but this is absolutely false,” says Jodi Barschow, a Kaiser Sunnyside RN and President of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), the union that represents Kaiser workers. “Kaiser’s proposals are an attack on patient care and the frontline healthcare workers who provide it, and all the while they are spreading untruths about how much we make and how they have handled negotiations. Lower wages will make it impossible to recruit and retain the healthcare professionals our patients depend on for care. We have a staffing crisis now; what do you think would happen if we allowed Kaiser to offer even less pay to prospective employees? It would create a healthcare disaster.”
In recent press interviews, Kaiser leadership has said that their healthcare workers make far above market rate, but the union disputes this claim. To get that number, Kaiser factors in facilities and nursing homes that have historically low wages and are not considered in the same market as Kaiser facilities. Then by comparison it says that Kaiser RNs and healthcare professionals are highly paid, but when compared to their actual competition these healthcare workers sometimes make far less. And given the cost of living changes and inflation that affects these workers, Kaiser’s proposals are a pay cut. For future workers, the “two-tier” system would be an even more radical change, slashing compensation far below the average. Kaiser provided a full 3% raise to other units in their system, and similar workplaces like OHSU provide 4-5% per year to their staff, yet Kaiser is pushing 1% plus a small bonus.
Likewise, Kaiser has said that they were trying to continue bargaining while the union has pushed forward a strike authorization vote, which is also untrue. In many of the recent bargaining sessions, Kaiser has refused to move on common sense proposals, brought no proposals at all, or even walked back proposals that they’d initially agreed to, like one on racial justice.
Negotiations both at the local level and at the national level are part of the 21-union Alliance of Healthcare Unions, representing 52,000 Kaiser workers, many of which are in the process of strike authorization votes as well. Kaiser’s proposals would accelerate the already devastating staffing crisis, putting our patients at risk in the future all around the country. At the rally, the union announced that all bargaining teams have unanimously recommended that members authorize a strike. On Monday, October 4th, strike authorization votes began for the 3,400 members whose contracts expired on September 30th. Over the past few weeks, 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.
The strike vote will continue over the coming days, and during a test run 94% of OFNHP members said they would vote to strike. If a strike is called then the union will provide Kaiser with a ten-day notice before walking off the job, in the hopes of averting the work stoppage.