Nearly 4,000 health care workers around Washington, D.C., voted this week to approve a strike at Kaiser Permanente, according to a statement from a union.
Union officials allege that Kaiser executives aren't listening to their demands, while at the same time violating the law. It comes after similar authorizations by unions representing some 80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, and California in recent days.
"We've been raising the alarm about patient safety, but Kaiser isn't hearing us. Kaiser executives keep refusing to listen to frontline healthcare workers on the issues that impact the care of our patients, and they're violating the law by failing to bargain in good faith," the Office and Professional Employees International Union (Local 2) said in a statement. The union represents Kaiser workers in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
"We are standing up for more staff and better patient care. If Kaiser doesn't stop committing unfair labor practices, healthcare workers are prepared to go on strike."
If the 80,000 Kaiser workers go on strike in several states, it would be the largest strike by health care workers in U.S. history, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions has said.
If no agreement is made by Sept. 30, the strike may be initiated, officials have said.
In a statement issued last week, Kaiser Permanente refuted many of the union's claims. The Oakland, California-based firm stressed that it's a "leader in employee wages and benefits" in multiple markets and that it has offered wage increases during bargaining talks with the union.
"In bargaining this year, we are offering across-the-board wage increases, an enterprise wide minimum wage starting at $21 an hour, continuing our existing excellent health benefits and retirement income plans, and much more," the statement said. "These and our other operational proposals reflect our deep commitment to the economic well-being of our employees."
According to Kaiser's website, it serves about 13 million people and operates 35 hospitals and hundreds of separate offices.
The company also stated that it takes "any threat to disrupt care for our members seriously and [has] comprehensive plans to ensure continued access to needed health care services should a strike occur later this year" in response to the strike authorizations.
“Our priority is to reach an agreement that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits,” the company told The Washington Post this week. “We are confident we’ll reach an agreement before the national agreement expires on Sept. 30 that strengthens our position as a best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access.”
The strike authorization comes in the midst of labor actions across the United States in recent weeks. Unionized workers at Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors walked out last week, although the three Detroit automakers have stated that they want to settle soon.
“We’re not going to keep waiting around forever while they drag this out. ... and we’re not messing around,” United Auto Workers President Sean Fain said on Sept. 18 in announcing a Sept. 22 deadline for escalating the strike unless there's “serious progress” in the talks.
Mark Stewart, the North American chief operating officer of Stellantis, the successor to Fiat Chrysler, said that the company is still looking for common ground with the UAW.
“I hope that we’re able to do that by Friday,” Mr. Stewart told CNBC.
GM said in a statement, “We’re continuing to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible for the benefit of our team members, customers, suppliers, and communities across the U.S.”
A Ford spokeswoman said on Sept. 19 that negotiations were continuing, but she provided no additional details.