Union workers employed by Kaiser Permanente are staging a series of protests across California. They say the health care provider is thriving financially, but still plans to outsource some jobs, and cut wages for some new hires.
Ealy joined more than a hundred other employees who chanted and marched. Some dressed in hospital scrubs, others in street clothes, and many in the deep purple color associated with their union, Service Employees International Union - United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW). They chanted "Who's got the power? We got the power! What kind of power? Union power!" The rally was one of 32 demonstrations that SEIU-UHW is organizing around California between Feb. 14 - Mar. 9.
SEIU-UHW represents roughly 55,000 positions at Kaiser facilities across the state, including medical assistants, housekeeping aides, and pharmacy clerks.
The union's contract with the health care provider expires in September, and union representatives say Kaiser is considering 20 percent wage cuts for new hires in the Central Valley, and ten percent cuts in the Sacramento area. The union points out that in 2017 Kaiser made $3.8 billion, after expenses.
"We work hard for Kaiser, Kaiser you’re making a lot of money," Ealy said. "Don’t be unfair to us."
Kaiser plans to hire an outside company to take over storage and distribution of pharmaceuticals in Oakland, and representatives say they fear the loss of 55 jobs there.
But John Nelson, Vice President of Communications at Kaiser Permanente, wrote in a statement that "The exact number of positions affected by this decision has not yet been determined."
He called the union's claims "premature" and potentially wrong. Nelson also wrote that when there are job changes, Kaiser works to "reassign and retain our employees first."
Union members say they have information that more than 700 other jobs around the state are threatened too, including positions at call centers in Southern California, and warehouse jobs like Ealy’s in Livermore.
Nelson stated that Kaiser will not be laying off 700 call center workers, but will "improve our call center agents' ability to manage member calls and schedule appointments across Southern California." He added that the health care provider will make "additional improvements and changes in the future," but will communicate those ahead of time.
Nelson also wrote that the union's claims about outsourcing of jobs in the Livermore distribution center are wrong.