Kaiser Permanente workers in Puget Sound area won’t be part of upcoming strike action
UPDATE, Sept. 25: Kaiser Permanente has reached a tentative agreement with its employee unions, averting what could have been one of the largest strikes in decades, according to a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting. The agreement covers 85,000 workers across seven states and Washington, D.C. In Oregon and Washington, about 8,300 workers were involved. The agreement will now go to union members, who are expected to ratify it by the end of October.
A one-week strike planned by 80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers for October does not include Puget Sound-area employees. That's because the union contract between SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and Kaiser Permanenet in Seattle, Tacoma and elsewhere in the region isn't up until the end of the year. But union workers at clinics in Southwest Washington will be part of any strike.
Unless a deal is worked out before then, the labor action will begin Oct. 14 in six states and the District of Columbia. According to the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, 6,600 workers in Oregon and Washington will be affected.
Jamela Henderson is a dental assistant at Kaiser Permanente in Longview, Washington. She's also a chief union shop steward with SEIU Local 49. She says understaffing is a constant issue.
“We’ve had two people leave our department this year alone," Henderson said. "And they have not been replaced and they will not be replaced, and we're told you’re going to just have to do more with less and that puts patients' health, patients' safety and employee safety all at risk."
Henderson and other union members say Kaiser Permanente is putting profits before people. Kaiser Permanente challenged that claim in a statement.
"We are committed to our workforce who delivers on our mission every day and to our members' demand for greater affordability of care and coverage from Kaiser Permanente," Kaiser CEO and chairman Bernard J. Tyson said in the release.
"I hope we will not have a strike on October 14, and we are preparing to deal with all scenarios to make sure our members are cared for," Tyson said in the statement.
He also called the planned strike "an overt effort to gain leverage in bargaining."
The two sides are scheduled to go back to the bargaining table Sept. 23 and 24. The union has to give Kaiser a 10-day notice before they strike and no formal notice has been given yet.