Unions announced a tentative deal with the hospital on Friday. File photo by Julianna Morano/Fresnoland
Hundreds of healthcare workers joined the picket line in front of the Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center on Wednesday morning to strike for higher wages in response to what the union calls a staffing crisis. Photo by Julianna Morano/Fresnoland

What's at stake?

Workers want Kaiser Permanente to raise wages and beef up staffing levels.

Health care workers are already threatening a second strike if Kaiser Permanente doesn’t meet their concerns about under-staffing in negotiations – a labor action that could eclipse last week’s strike.

More than 75,000 thousand workers took to picket lines for a three-day strike last Wednesday through Friday. That included hundreds of workers in Fresno, where Kaiser operates a hospital and multiple doctor’s offices. 

Union leaders and experts called last week’s Kaiser worker strike the largest health care labor action in U.S. history.

But a second Kaiser worker strike would last a week and potentially involve thousands more workers on the West Coast.

The coalition of Kaiser workers’ unions delivered official notice of a second strike planned for Nov. 1 through 8, according to a Monday news release from the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West. This time, 3,000 additional Kaiser workers in Seattle, whose contract will expire Oct. 31, could join.

“Healthcare workers have made clear they hope not to strike again,” the release said, “and that while taking the legal steps necessary to prepare for that possibility, they are primarily focused on encouraging Kaiser executives to follow the law and to listen to the needs of patients and healthcare workers who are buckling under the current short staffing crisis within Kaiser facilities.”

Talks resume Thursday.

“We look forward to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages and benefits,” Kaiser officials have said, “and ensures our high-quality care is affordable and available to meet our members’ needs.”

Staffing levels, pay raises at center in Kaiser worker strike

Last week’s strike followed months of negotiations between Kaiser and the coalition of unions representing ultrasound technicians, medical assistants, housekeepers, and other healthcare employees nationwide.

The coalition has been pushing for a $26 minimum wage within Kaiser to combat staffing issues and contend with the rising cost of living across the country.

Kaiser’s latest counteroffer was a $23 minimum wage in California and $21 an hour at the rest of its locations across the country.

Roughly 60,000 of the workers who voted in favor of striking are based at facilities in California, where Kaiser is the largest private employer in the state, according to Kaiser Permanente’s site.

Outside Kaiser’s Fresno Medical Center on day one of the strike, workers told Fresnoland the staffing crisis creates “unsafe” situations for patients, whether they’re waiting over thirty minutes for a staff member to help them use the bathroom or months for a cancer diagnosis.

“We’re running like chickens with our heads cut off,” said Orlando Vega, an emergency room worker in Fresno. “We’re trying to be at five places at once, trying to take care of critical patients.”

Facilities remained open during the Kaiser worker strike last week, with hospitals relying on physicians and nurses who continued working through the stoppage and, in some cases, turning to temporary contract workers.

The nonprofit health care giant also made plans to cancel some non-urgent appointments and reduce hours at some pharmacies and labs during the strike.

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