Some local Kaiser Permanente workers could be participating in the largest strike seen in the United States in decades this fall, with Tri-Valley union members among those so far to vote overwhelmingly to authorize a strike should contract negotiations break down.
Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) representatives say that in response to negotiations stalling over a new workers' contract, more than 37,000 members cast ballots in support of a strike, while only 867 voted to oppose, in voting between July 29 and Aug. 11 in regions with Kaiser hospitals, including Pleasanton, Livermore and San Ramon.
Strike authorization votes among other groups of Kaiser workers throughout the country are set to run through mid-September.
"Kaiser workers all over California are putting a stake in the ground that it's time for this corporation to get back on track and live up to its mission to help patients, workers and communities thrive," Heather Wright, a women's health clerk at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, said in a union statement.
SEIU-UHW represents medical assistants and others at health care centers such as licensed vocational nurses, radiology technologists and lab techs to housekeeping, dietary aides and maintenance employees.
Their contract with Kaiser expired on Sept. 30, 2018, according to union officials.
John Nelson, Kaiser's vice president of communications, said Kaiser has proposed a contract that includes "annual pay increases that would keep our employees compensated higher than market averages." He called the union's requests unfair to Kaiser members and the communities they serve.
"Kaiser Permanente and SEIU-UHW have been working together toward a mutually beneficial agreement as part of the national bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions that began in April," he said in an email statement. "Unfortunately, UHW leadership has decided to use the threat of a strike as a bargaining tactic, designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente's position, even though most of the contracts don't expire until October."
Nelson said key aspects of Kaiser's proposal include 3% wage increases each year through 2022, a $40 million workforce development fund and the creation of new-hire training programs, and the preservation of the existing "defined pension plan."
Wright countered that "this strike vote is about stopping Kaiser's unfair labor practices. This company should be all about providing the best possible patient care, but unfortunately it's focus in recent years has been on making billions of dollars in profits and millions of dollars for Kaiser executives."
The strike would start in early October, and pending approval from groups in other states, would be the largest strike the nation has seen since the Teamsters' walkout at UPS in 1997, according to SEIU-UHW media relations specialist Sean Wherley.
Wherley added that in Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon alone, more than 650 Kaiser Permanente workers would be affected by the strike.