What's at stake?
About 1,500 health care workers at Fresno's Kaiser Permanente locations plan to join the strike if a new agreement isn't reached by the end of September.
The healthcare workers union representing over 1,000 employees at Kaiser Permanente Fresno locations voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike if they don’t reach an agreement with the nonprofit healthcare provider by Sept. 30.
About 98% of the 60,000 Kaiser union workers across California approved a potential strike, according to a news release from Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West on Thursday morning.
“It’s been a lot of hard work and education, and I’m glad the majority of the membership was willing to step up,” said Fresno Kaiser employee and SEIU-UHW member Melanie Reno in a text to Fresnoland on Thursday. “But we still have a long fight ahead of us. And we have to show management that we mean what we say.”
She confirmed that roughly 1,500 workers from Kaiser Permanente Fresno locations would plan to join the work stoppage if it happens after the end of this month.
The union covers lab technicians, respiratory therapists, cooking staff, housekeepers, and other healthcare workers at Kaiser’s local facilities.
The soonest a strike could happen would be Oct. 1, union leadership told Fresnoland earlier this week.
In an emailed statement Thursday afternoon, Kaiser Permanente leaders said they remain confident they’ll reach a new national agreement with the workers by the end of the month.
Kaiser added that they’re still making necessary arrangements to guarantee patients’ care in the wake of the strike authorization votes.
“We take any threat to disrupt care for our members seriously,” Kaiser said in the statement, “and have comprehensive plans to ensure continued access to needed health care services, should a strike occur later this year.”
Kaiser employees want $26 minimum wage. Hospital says no
Kaiser and SEIU-UHW have been in negotiations since the spring. So have multiple other Kaiser employees’ unions, representing a total of over 85,000 healthcare workers in other states. Each one is taking its own strike authorization vote before the national agreement with Kaiser expires at the end of September.
Over 3,000 Kaiser workers in Colorado also voted to authorize a strike earlier this month, with about 99% of members approving.
If a coalition-wide strike happens, it would be the largest among healthcare workers in U.S. history, according to SEIU-UHW.
The coalition is fighting for better wages to combat what they describe as a staffing crisis. One of their proposals includes a $26 per hour minimum wage within Kaiser.
The healthcare giant has countered that this proposal “would not reflect market labor costs” between the different cities where it pays workers. In its Thursday statement, Kaiser said it has counter-offered an “enterprise wide minimum wage” of $21 an hour.
SEIU-UHW has also cited financial data from Kaiser indicating that the nonprofit made $3 billion in profit in the first six months of 2023, even while “some frontline healthcare heroes live in their cars and patients wait longer for care,” according to Thursday’s news release.
In its statement, Kaiser took aim at several of the union’s claims, saying the hospital is “a leader in employee wages and benefits in every market we are in.”
“We help our employees build long-term economic security,” the statement continues, “with low-cost health insurance, industry-leading retirement plans, and other benefit programs to support employee health and well-being.”
The next bargaining session is scheduled for Sept. 21.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the amount of money workers are seeking during negotiations. They hope to eventually see a $26 per hour wage.