upper waypoint

Bay Area Kaiser Workers Strike for Higher Wages, Increased Staffing

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Striking workers with bullhorn and tambourines protest in front of a building
Janehild Williams (left), a licensed vocational nurse, strikes in front of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in Oakland on Oct. 4, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Nearly 23,000 Kaiser Permanente X-ray operators, surgical technicians, nursing assistants and other health care workers in the Bay Area began striking Wednesday morning as contract negotiations continue.

“We have committed to a three-day strike,” said Timothy Regan, a Kaiser health educator of 25 years who was picketing outside the San Francisco Medical  Center before dawn.

Employees will be striking across the Bay Area from Wednesday until 6 a.m. on Saturday, including at Kaiser hospitals in Oakland, Antioch, Fremont, Manteca, Redwood City, Richmond, San Francisco, South San Francisco, San José, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Vallejo and Walnut Creek.

Kaiser workers are pushing for increased staffing and pay increases to prevent burnout after millions of health care workers left their jobs during the pandemic.

A group of people hold signs in front of a large modern looking building.
Kaiser workers strike in front of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in Oakland on Oct. 4, 2023 (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

“Short staffing is the biggest thing that affects patient care and quality of care,” Edith Hurtado, a medical assistant at Kaiser, told KQED while picketing outside the San Francisco facility on Wednesday. “Patients have a long wait period or [are] not getting the care they need and have to wait for a medication or injection. The quality of patient care does diminish when we don’t have a full staff.”

But the three-day strike is expected to exacerbate vaccine wait times for many patients at Kaiser, which serves more than 9.4 million people across California and is one of the largest private employers in the state. Non-emergency health services including elective surgeries have been rescheduled at some locations as well.

Some laboratory, radiology and optical locations may be closed or operating at reduced hours during the strike, a spokesperson for Kaiser told KQED in an email.

Getting vaccines

Lily Young has been struggling to find a booster shot for her two young children at her local Kaiser facilities in Sacramento. The strike has made her feel “very nervous” about their ability to get vaccinated before a scheduled trip.

“About half of my friends are Kaiser members and we are all just scrambling and trying to get these COVID shots,” said Young. “I support the workers and their right to unionize, the right to get fair wages and get compensation, most certainly. But the reality is that it does have an impact on patients.”

Kaiser workers strike in front of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in Oakland on Oct. 4, 2023 (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Employees like Hurtado, who is also a Kaiser patient, said they hope the strike will put pressure on executives to improve conditions for workers, and by extension, patients.

“I’m a patient here. My family are patients here. We want better quality care and full staffing,” she said. “We’re here to fight not only for us as health care workers, but for our patients as well.”

Sponsored

In California, Kaiser received its supply of COVID-19 doses in the last two weeks and currently is only accepting walk-ins. But for kids 11 and younger, an immunization appointment must be scheduled online, according to the health care provider’s website.

Other retail pharmacies are gearing up to provide additional shots while the strike is ongoing.

Places like Walgreens will accept Kaiser insurance for vaccines and offer free shots to people who are uninsured. But some clinics charge a steep fee, and not all accept Kaiser insurance.

When Young tried to get a COVID-19 vaccine at her local Rite Aid, she was told that Kaiser was no longer reimbursing shots there. The pharmacy said the out-of-pocket cost for the shot was $190. She decided to wait it out.

“I did try to make an online appointment, and there’s just nothing available,” Young told KQED. “Now I’m just at the mercy of Kaiser to hopefully get myself, my husband, my 4-year-old and my 9-month-old vaccinated and they have been historically really slow with vaccinations.”

A recent union survey of employees showed nearly 65% of respondents have seen patients’ care delayed or denied (PDF) due to recent staffing shortages.

A person holds up a sign that reads "Kaiser Workers on ULP Strike."
Michael Jones strikes at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in Oakland on Oct. 4, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

“I’ve caught COVID twice and I still work for Kaiser. I put my life to risk coming to work,” Michael Jones, a Kaiser medical assistant who works with autistic children, told KQED outside Oakland Medical Center on Wednesday. “For Kaiser to say they can find other workers who don’t care, that they’ll find other workers who are better and cheaper, that’s a slap in the face.”

Wage increases for staff

Close to 75,000 Kaiser workers in California — as well as in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington, D.C. — are now demanding their employer to increase staffing and are pushing for a 6.5% wage increase in the first two years of this next contract, and a 5.75% increase the following two years.

Employees are also seeking to raise the minimum wage across the board to $26 by 2026.

Grover Woods, who works in the operating room at Kaiser in Oakland, said workers like him “are overworked and underpaid.”

“Inflation is going all the way up, everything is high. Groceries, insurance, everything,” Woods told KQED at the Oakland picket line on Wednesday. “Everything is going up except our paycheck.”

In a recent proposal, Kaiser offered California workers across-the-board wage increases of 4% for the next two years, and 3% for the following two years, as well as a minimum performance bonus aimed to prevent any employees from receiving no payout.

Kaiser also recently offered (PDF) a $23-per-hour minimum wage for its employees in California starting in 2024.

More Related Stories

“We lead total compensation in every market where we operate, and our proposals in bargaining would ensure we keep that position,” a spokesperson for Kaiser said in an email. “In some places, like in Southern California, a Kaiser Permanente employee leaving for a similar job at another organization would on average face a 20-plus percent pay cut and lower benefits.”

Employees represented by Kaiser’s coalition of labor unions voted to authorize the strike last month if a deal was not reached by Sept. 30.

“We gave a 10-day notice for that and we’re waiting moment by moment for Kaiser executives to respond and say, ‘Ok, let’s actually start creating solutions that work for everybody,’” said Regan from the picket line.

KQED reporter Billy Cruz contributed to this report.

Sponsored

lower waypoint
next waypoint
Hundreds Battle Sonoma County Fire as Evacuation Orders Remain in PlaceEast San José School Conspired to Hide Teacher's Sexual Abuse, 11 Victims Allege in LawsuitSee Where Wildfires Are Burning in CaliforniaSan Francisco's First Mayoral DebateSF Supervisors Consider Overnight Curfew for Tenderloin Food, Retail ShopsSurvivors Of Burned Down Palm Springs Neighborhood Seek ReparationsGov. Gavin Newsom and Top Democrats Are Deciding California's Budget Behind Closed DoorsSan Francisco Lawmakers Want Sober Housing to Be Part of Homelessness PlanHow Influencers and Algorithms Undermine Democracy — and How to Fight BackSanta Cruz Startup 3D Prints Surfboards From Recycled Hospital Trays