Striking the Giant: 75k Kaiser Workers Demand More Than Scraps Amidst Billions in Profits

A staggering 75,000 healthcare workers from Kaiser Permanente, spread across the U.S., put their foot down on Wednesday, marking the beginning of what’s being called the largest healthcare strike in the nation’s history. With the workers’ contract expiring and no agreeable resolution in sight, this moment serves as a monumental reminder of the prevalent imbalance within our healthcare system.

The impact of this strike spans coasts, with a heavy presence in California and extending its arms into Oregon, Washington, Colorado, D.C., and Virginia. The sea of striking workers includes a plethora of vital roles: vocational nurses, emergency department and radiology techs, pharmacists, sonographers, and more. Their cause? A vehement objection to being stretched thin, a consequence of grueling understaffing and stark neglect of patient care, seemingly in favor of sustaining profits.

One voice from the crowd, Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center, expressed a vivid picture of the reality they’re mired in: “I see my patients’ frustrations when I have to rush them…That’s not the care I want to give. We’re burning ourselves out trying to do the jobs of two or three people, and our patients suffer when they can’t get the care they need due to Kaiser’s short-staffing.”

In a rallying cry for sustainable solutions and genuine acknowledgment from Kaiser executives, unions are pushing for a $25 per hour minimum wage, coupled with gradual raises over the next four years. Kaiser’s counter? A tiered wage system and a considerably lower minimum wage that fluctuates based on location. The unions articulate a straightforward rationale: decent wages could magnetize more workers and be a potential salve for the staffing shortage.

As we navigate the story, the pandemic’s shadow looms large, disrupting healthcare staffing and leaving a gaping wound that’s yet to heal. Keven Dardon, a patient access representative in Clackamas, Oregon, has witnessed his department dwindle from 60 to 40 employees during the pandemic, translating to longer lines and extended wait times for patients.

He lays it bare: “It’s really taken a toll in the hospital setting…Our frontline employees are demanding Kaiser Permanente executives come to the table, we’ve proposed the things that would fix the staffing issue, and we’ve made tons of proposals, but because our executives just aren’t listening to us, they are just not coming to the table to even entertain those proposals.”

In contrast, The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions presents a jarring dichotomy – the juxtaposition of exhausted workers against the backdrop of Kaiser Permanente’s flourishing financial landscape. With a $3 billion profit in just the first half of this year and a boastful $21 billion in profits over the past five years, there’s a harrowing disconnect. Add to that the spicy detail of 49 executives cozying up with over $1 million in annual salaries, and the picture becomes agonizingly clear.

As we spotlight this pivotal moment in U.S. labor history, let’s reflect on the absurdity of a system where the very people who shepherd our health and wellness are forced into a corner, compelled to fight against a goliath healthcare entity simply for fair wages and humane working conditions.