Nurses to Resume Talks with Kaiser After Strike

Nurses carry signs as they strike outside of Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Francisco last week. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Nurses carry signs as they strike outside of Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Francisco last week. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Nurses are gearing up to return to the bargaining table with Kaiser, after walking off the job for a two-day strike.

Though the nurses emphasized the stalemate over more than 35 operational proposals in their call for the strike – over things like staffing levels and Ebola protections – several nurses on the picket lines expressed concerns about economic issues. Many of them wore pins that said "No TakeAways."

Nurse Ama Jackson says they are afraid Kaiser will try to cut their pensions and health care benefits.

“They want to do takeaways, because they want to increase their profits,” she said, as hundreds of nurses marched up and down the sidewalk outside Kaiser's hospital in Oakland last Tuesday. “But nurses are saying, 'That’s not fair. That’s not fair to how hard we work.'”

It's been three months of bargaining, but neither side has made any formal economic proposals in the negotiations yet. Nurses say they have made clear that they simply want to renew the same contract they passed in the last round of bargaining in 2011.

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“We have a very strong contract that we’re trying to protect,” says Linda Pasek, an oncology infusion nurse at Kaiser Oakland. “We’re not asking for anything more than what we had for the last three years. We’re just asking to keep what we have.”

Right now, Kaiser nurses are guaranteed cost-of-living increases to their salaries, plus 100 percent employer-paid health benefits and a pension.

“We want to keep our pensions, our health care,” Pasek says. “We don’t want to pay for our health care. We want that to be a human right.”

Kaiser has been silent on these issues. Nurses say Kaiser was supposed to put its economic proposals on the table in late October, but didn’t. Kaiser says it doesn’t want to make any economic proposals until all of the operational issues have been resolved.

“I can reassure you that nurses at Kaiser are paid extremely well -- very, very fair wages and benefits,” said Odette Bolano, senior vice president for Kaiser's East Bay facilities.

She points to a current trend in the health care industry, where hospitals are considering shifting from hospital-backed pension plans to more common retirement funds that employees have to contribute to, like a 401(k) or a 403(b).

“Everybody’s evaluating that,” she said. “Every industry is evaluating their pension plans to make sure that they’re affordable in the future.”