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Amid Kaiser Strike, a Look at the Biggest Union Walkouts in California Recently

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A large mass of people holding signs and wearing red.
Striking teachers and supporters rally outside the Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles on January 18, 2019. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The summer of strike has entered its fall season, as nearly 75,000 Kaiser Permanente health care workers across six states are on the last day of their three-day walkout. This strike by Kaiser staff including X-ray operators, surgical technicians and nursing assistants is now one of the biggest health care work stoppages in U.S. history — involving over 20,000 workers in the Bay Area alone.

Kaiser is one of California’s largest private insurers — and its workers have joined thousands of other strikers that brought California’s labor issues national attention, such as the writers guild and actors guild in Hollywood, and one that centered on the hotel industry in Los Angeles.

Labor action like this in the United States has gone down in recent decades. These decreases — noticeable during the recession — are attributed to the growth of the service industry, technology, and declining union membership, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, when measured by the number of workers walking off the job, some of California’s biggest strikes have taken place in recent years — although these walkouts may also include workers from other states (such as the current Kaiser Permanente protests, which includes states like Colorado and Washington).

Here are a few of the biggest labor strikes in California since 1993, according to BLS data. This data includes work stoppages that involve 1,000 workers or more, and the number of workers at the beginning of the strike are rounded to the nearest hundred.

1. The current actors strike

How many workers on strike? Around 160,000.

Following its writers equivalent, the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) went on strike this July, bringing Hollywood to a standstill. The actors union is still out picketing over declining pay, residuals in the age of streaming, and the threat of AI.

The writers strike recently ended — and SAG-AFTRA is planning to meet with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Friday and next week for more negotiations.

2. Actors, this time from the 2000s

How many workers on strike? Around 135,000.

A little over twenty years prior, SAG and AFTRA (then two different unions) went on strike from May 2000 to the end of October 2000, with William Daniels — Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World — as the SAG president.

It was contentious among actors, as the strike’s purpose was to argue over how their members were compensated in commercials and led to some non-union actors breaking picket lines and shooting advertisements anyway.

Michael Jones and others strike at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in Oakland on Oct. 4, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

3. The 2003–2004 Southern California supermarket strikes

How many workers on strike? Around 67,300.

From October 2003 to February 2004, workers went on strike against Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons Markets after losing some of their health care benefits — although the number of those striking decreased as time went on.

The chains in question lost a combined $1.5 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times.

4. Los Angeles Unified School District strikes this year

How many workers on strike? Around 65,000.

For three days in March, education workers — specifically bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria workers — went on strike for higher wages to live in an increasingly pricey Southern California, halting classes for over 400,000 students.

5. University of California in 2018

How many workers on strike? Around 53,000.

For three days in May, thousands of custodians, security guards, gardeners and other service workers at the University of California’s ten campuses went on strike to address pay inequalities. Nurses, pharmacies, radiologists, and medical workers then joined the walkouts in a “sympathy strike.”

6. University of California’s walkout last year

How many workers on strike? Around 48,000.

The University of California’s ten campuses again saw a strike, this time in 2022 in what was the largest strike in the history of U.S. higher education. Workers included researchers, postdoctoral scholars, tutors and more.

7. Los Angeles County government workers in 2000

How many workers on strike? Around 47,000.

Los Angeles County — after struggling in the ’90s — had a booming economy in the 2000s but workers said they didn’t see the rewards of that in their paychecks. Government workers like animal control officers, part-time librarians and ambulance drivers help rolling strikes in hopes of higher wages.

8. Kaiser Permanente strikes in 2021

How many workers on strike? Around 40,000.

In November 2021, engineers walked out over alleged unfair labor practices for two days — with fellow unions consisting of mental health professionals and pharmacists joining in sympathy.

“The engineers are a vital part of the facility,” Ron Cook, a patient mobility coach, told KQED in 2021. “When the power goes out and anything happens with lifesaving equipment, it’s the engineers that fix it.”


9. Los Angeles teachers strike in 2019

How many workers on strike? Around 33,000.

For six days, teachers in Los Angeles county walked out — bringing national attention to the lack of resources public schools face in the United States. It was the first time the Los Angeles union had walked out in 30 years.

10. United Food and Commercial Workers protesting retail grocery chains from the ’90s

How many workers on strike? Around 32,000.

Workers walked out of Safeway, Lucky Stores, and Save Mart from April 7–15, 1995, with teamsters and truckers refusing to cross the picket line.

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