DC Health Care Workers Threaten to Strike Later This Month

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Thousands of unionized health care workers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are threatening to strike later this month if Kaiser Permanente management and the union cannot reach an agreement on a new contract that addresses staffing shortages and job losses. workers' salaries.

According to a Monday statement from OPEIU Local 2, which represents 8,000 workers in the region, about 98% of the union's health care workers voted to authorize a strike to protest “unfair labor practices” if they do not An agreement is reached before September 30.

Health care workers represented by OPEIU Local 2 include optometrists, pharmacists, nurses and certified nursing assistants. The union also includes a variety of technicians involved in healthcare, including surgery, imaging and emergency department technicians.

The OPEIU Local 2 union voted to join thousands of other Kaiser Permanente workers who plan to strike on September 30 over contract negotiations, including health care workers in Colorado, California, Oregon and southwest Washington. Maryland has about 30 Kaiser Permanente-affiliated facilities across the state, according to the Kaiser Permanente website.

One of the main concerns is what the union called “unsafe” staffing shortages, which “can lead to dangerously long wait times and rushed in-person care.”

The group claims that if the strike goes ahead, it could be the "largest healthcare strike in American history."

The coalition of unions and Kaiser Permanente last negotiated contracts in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States. The pressures of the global health crisis “worsened working conditions and exacerbated the health workforce crisis,” according to Monday's press release.

“Kaiser used to present itself as the best place to get care and the best place to work, but now it is failing at both. Kaiser can and must do better,” Linda Bridges, president of OPEIU Local 2, said in a written statement. "We demand that Kaiser negotiate in good faith, stop violating the law and address the health workforce crisis."

The union argues that decisions by Kaiser Permanente executives have contributed to staffing problems, including cutting bonuses for front-line workers, insufficiently raising wages to match the rising cost of living and supplying low wages for entry-level workers that are not competitive with fast food service. or retail work.

In a written statement released Monday, Kaiser Permanente said the strike authorization vote was "a disappointing action."

Kaiser Permanente said the parties involved have two more negotiating sessions scheduled this week, ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline.

“We are confident that we will reach an agreement before the national agreement expires on September 30 that strengthens our position as the best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easily accessible. ", he claimed. Kaiser's statement said.

Kaiser argued that OPEIU Local 2's wage complaints are misleading, claiming that current proposals would set a minimum wage of $21 an hour, when the union is asking for $26 an hour. The nonprofit health organization also argues that they have invested millions in continuing education and training opportunities for employees to help deal with staffing concerns.

"We take any threat to disrupt care for our members seriously and have comprehensive plans to ensure continued access to necessary health care services, should a strike occur later this year," according to the written statement. .

The union responded that Kaiser Permanente earned $3 billion in the first six months of 2023, according to a recent financial report of the company.

"Workers say Kaiser is committing unfair labor practices and also that understaffing is increasing Kaiser's profits but hurting patients," according to a union statement. "In a recent survey conducted among 33,000 employees, 2/3 of workers said they had seen care delayed or denied due to staffing shortages.

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