By Olivia Wynkoop
Bay City News
Union members representing Kaiser Permanente’s mental health professionals, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists and others plan to walk the picket line Thursday and Friday in sympathy with striking engineers.
Local 39 IUOE operating engineers and union members have been on strike for the last two months amid contract negotiations, citing alleged unfair labor practices and pay.
In response, members of SEIU-UHW, Local 20, Local 29, the California Nurses Association and NUHW across Northern California care facilities are making up a 40,000-person strike across the Bay Area, the Sacramento area and beyond.
The sympathy strike comes despite Kaiser’s recent strides in making tentative agreements with the Alliance of Health Care Unions and and the Guild for Professional Pharmacists.
The SEIU-UHW Kaiser Executive Board members released a collective letter that said Kaiser used to embrace the labor movement and tried to be the provider of choice for union members.
“But now, Kaiser is on a different path, engaging in union-busting by allowing the engineer strike to continue for more than seven weeks,” the statement reads. “Kaiser’s position that frontline workers are ‘overpaid’ is demeaning, especially as it continues to rake in billions of dollars in profits during the pandemic and pays dozens of executives million-dollar-salaries.”
In response, Kaiser officials said the union is asking for unreasonable increases that exceed beyond other union requests it has seen. Kaiser said it understands union solidarity, though these strikes are not protected by law for SEUI-UHW, Local 20 and Local 29. A symphony strike is also “not appropriate in this case,” according to the company’s statement.
Kaiser officials said this strike will not bring the two parties closer to an agreement.
“We are offering Local 39 employees wages that are similar to our other employees’ and that, on top of Local 39’s generous medical and the richest retirement benefits, will keep our engineers among the best compensated in their profession, at an average of more than $180,000 in total wages and benefits,” according to the statement from Kaiser. “We are not proposing any take-aways and our proposals do not differentiate between current and future employees.”
In anticipation of the strikes, the company released a message to its customers about potential impacts for care in the pharmacy, lab and radiology department, optical services, emergency care and routine care.
“In the event of a strike, we may have to reschedule some elective surgeries, nonurgent appointments, or change your appointment to a phone or video visit. We’ll contact you if there are changes to your appointments,” Kaiser wrote in an email message to customers. “There’s no need to call or email your doctor at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Outpatient pharmacies may be closed on Thursday and Friday, though their mail delivery services and immediate representative care will remain open, along with pharmacies for inpatient care.
Lab and radiology departments may be closed or operating under reduced hours. Kaiser suggests to members to schedule an appointment for non-urgent needs.
Optical services will be closed Thursday, but will reopen on Friday.
Emergency care will be open during strikes, though wait times are expected to increase. Kaiser officials said emergency departments at other, non-Kaiser hospitals may be able to serve patients quicker through Nov. 19.