By Vincent Cross
Last night, health care unions representing over 50,000 Kaiser Permanente workers announced that a strike would begin on November 15, after weeks of negotiations reached an impasse over wage increases and Kaiser’s attempt to implement a two-tier wage system for its workers. Last Saturday, as workers anticipated the possibility of a strike, thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers and their supporters held a ‘pre-strike’ rally in Pasadena, California in support of their demands and to demonstrate their ability to mobilize.
An emergency room surgeon at the rally told Tribune: “It makes me happy to see such a turn out like this happen. I came after a 15-hour shift straight here and I know there were a lot more people that wanted to but couldn’t make it out.”
Under Kaiser’s current proposed two-tier wage system, starting in 2023 new hires would make between 26% and 39% less than veteran workers. The health care workers are also demanding a 3% annual raise while Kaiser is only offering 1%. With a strike now imminent, it will be the largest strike in the country, with over 50,000 workers who are currently working under the contract being negotiated by Alliance of Health Care Unions.
Although the strike is now set, health care workers that spoke to Tribune prior to the strike announcement were frustrated by what they felt was the union stalling and delaying the strike, which they thought would start on October 30. One nurse told Tribune that the union’s unclear timeline for when the strike would commence created an atmosphere where workers felt “helpless” and inadvertently gave Kaiser time to prepare for the strike.
Another nurse told activists in contact with Tribune that during a recent Zoom meeting, union leaders stated that they had been receiving a lot of angry emails from members and that they haven’t been able to discuss everything with members in order to keep some things secret.
Across the country, health care workers are staging strikes, walkouts, and other actions to protest the low wages, long hours and dangerous conditions that are imposed on them by the capitalist healthcare system in the United States. Nurses and other hospital support staff emphasize that these conditions are dangerous, both for health care workers and patients alike, and why their struggle is not only for their own livelihoods, but for the communities they serve.
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