More than 400 Kaiser Permanente health care workers at Richmond Medical Center are on Day 2 of the strike that is expected to end at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Holding signs that said “Respect and value healthcare workers” and “Our patients need more staff,” they marched in a circle around the building in 90-degree heat, chanting “We are union, health care union.” Car horns honked and passersby cheered for the workers, who went on strike Wednesday demanding that Kaiser hire more union workers to address understaffing and also to increase wages.
Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions have been negotiating for six months. Kaiser said in a statement Wednesday that some tentative agreements have been reached, including across-the-board wage increases in all markets over the next four years.
According to the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente, the strike includes more than 75,000 Kaiser workers in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Union leaders say it’s the largest health care worker strike in U.S. history.
“This three-day strike will be the initial demonstration of our strength to Kaiser that we will not stand for their unfair labor practices,” the coalition said on its website.
For La Trena Robinson, a 15-year licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser in Richmond, the strike is about better patient services. Patients in Richmond deserve better access to health care and timely appointments, said Robinson, a member of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers.
“We have significantly high rates of complex chronic medical conditions in this area like diabetes, heart failure and history of strokes,” Robinson said. “If you have a complex medical condition, you shouldn’t have to wait weeks and weeks and weeks for a doctor’s appointment.”
Among those striking in Richmond are medical social workers, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants, environmental service workers and dietitians.
“We have been bargaining for a new contract since April,” Robinson said. “And Kaiser, unfortunately, is not playing fair.”
The strike did not interrupt services at the Richmond facility, where patients came and went throughout the day, without any interference from striking union members. “We want to reassure you that your care is our top priority,” Kaiser said in a note to readers on its website, adding that it was putting a contingency plan in place.
Soraida Chavez, who is the SEIU-UHW executive board chair for Richmond, said the coalition is trying to erase pay disparity, which exists among workers in different parts of California and in other states.
“We are looking for fair wages across our coalition for everybody,” she said.
The coalition also wants Kaiser to stop sub-contracting and to instead hire union workers. Chavez, who is a medical assistant in the pediatric department, said the staff shortages that existed during the COVID-19 pandemic have continued. Staff then has to rush through appointments, which Chavez said isn’t fair to patients.
In its statement, Kaiser said it has hired 50,000 workers in the past two years and that it has already reached its goal this year to hire 10,000 coalition-represented workers.
Patients come to Kaiser for high quality health care, which the staff provides, giving patients a seamless experience, said Sunny Johnson, a Kaiser receptionist.
“The health care workers are the ones that take care of the patients,” she said. “The health care workers are the ones that collects their revenue. The health care workers are the ones that keep their hospital clean, that make the patients want to come here and bring their money here.”