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Kaiser Permanente Strike Votes Expand To Hawaii And Northern California

Pharmacists and Therapists Stand Up for Patient Care

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- More than 1,500 pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists from California to Hawaii—represented by UNAC/UHCP in negotiations for their first union contracts with Kaiser Permanente—will cast strike authorization votes October 24-28. The results will be announced on October 29.

On October 11, in ongoing negotiations for an existing national contract, more than 20,000 UNAC/UHCP members in southern California Kaiser Permanente locations headed toward a strike against the health care giant in an overwhelming authorization vote.

UNAC/UHCP members across Kaiser Permanente are standing up against draconian proposals that depress wages for current workers. KP negotiators also seek to slash the wages of new workers—who are desperately needed as staffing shortages threaten patient care for the long term.

This latest strike vote would affect Kaiser hospitals and medical centers from Fresno to Sacramento in California and on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the big island in Hawaii.

In northern California, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists face workload demands that leave patients—trying to recover from long COVID and other conditions—waiting too long for rehabilitative care.

"Management hasn't been open to discussions on how to improve staffing and provide the rehabilitative care that Kaiser Permanente patients deserve," said Roland Lucas, a physical therapist at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, CA.

Roland helped organize the northern California therapists' and is a member of the team negotiating the first contract. "We needed to demonstrate that we aren't willing to give up on our patients and our professions."

Hawaii pharmacists and therapists have been in protracted talks, working against employer proposals seemingly designed to thwart the newly organized units. New units are also worried about the employer's resistance to solving long-term issues of staffing and quality.

"We care about Kaiser Permanente being able to have the proper number of experienced pharmacists in place to do our work safely and accurately," said Jake Elsbernd, a pharmacist who worked on Oahu. "I would want there to be a quality pharmacist taking care of medications for me and my family."

"We had one set of rules before organizing, now management is trying to make changes that negatively impact us," said Matthew Piskura, a home health physical therapist on Oahu and a bargaining team member. "The timing draws into question retaliation for organizing. Striking is never our first option but is the result of management's refusal to work in partnership."

A strike would not immediately occur when the voting concludes on October 28. The strike authorization gives the bargaining teams the option of calling a strike when they choose, and for a duration to be determined. Labor laws require unions in the health care industry to submit a 10-day notice to the employer before going out on strike.

In recent years, working in partnership with front-line unions, Kaiser Permanente has set standards nationally for health care quality and for wages and benefits in the industry. Kaiser Permanente's health care system, which boasts 12 million health plan members, has turned a $2.7 billion profit during the pandemic, maintained a $44.5 billion reserve, and continued to gain subscribers.

Yet, top Kaiser Permanente executives claim to be under threat from pop-up clinics and start-up apps.

Background links:Information on KP's finances: https://www.investinpatientcare.com/kpfinances 

United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) represents more than 32,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals in California and Hawaii, including optometrists; pharmacists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; case managers; nurse midwives; social workers; clinical lab scientists; physician assistants and nurse practitioners. UNAC/UHCP is affiliated with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.

CONTACTS: Anjetta Thackeray, UNAC/UHCP Communications | anjetta.thackeray@unacuhcp.org | (909) 455-5146 Jeff Rogers, UNAC/UHCP Communications | jeff.rogers@unacuhcp.org | (909) 263-7230

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SOURCE United Nurses Associations of California / Union of Health Care Professionals