Union Healthcare Workers Threaten Strike Over Staffing Shortages and Low Pay

Union Healthcare Workers Threaten Strike Over Staffing Shortages and Low Pay

Approximately 3,800 union healthcare workers in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., are considering going on strike at the end of this month if an agreement is not reached with Kaiser Permanente regarding staffing shortages and low pay. OPEIU Local 2, the union that represents these workers, stated that about 98% of its members voted to authorize a strike to protest “unfair labor practices” if there is no resolution by September 30.

The healthcare workers represented by OPEIU Local 2 include optometrists, pharmacists, nurses, certified nursing assistants, and various technicians involved in healthcare. The union has joined thousands of other Kaiser Permanente workers across the country who are planning to strike on the same day over contract negotiations.

One of the primary concerns of the union is the “unsafe” staffing shortages that lead to long wait times and rushed in-person care. The union claims that if the strike occurs, it could be the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history. The pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened working conditions and exacerbated the healthcare staffing crisis, according to the union.

Kaiser Permanente executives are being blamed by the union for contributing to the staff issues. The executives have allegedly cut bonuses for frontline workers, failed to raise wages sufficiently to match the rising cost of living, and offered low wages for entry-level workers that are not competitive with other industries.

Kaiser Permanente responded by calling the strike authorization vote a “disappointing action.” The healthcare organization stated that there are still two more bargaining sessions scheduled before the September 30 deadline and expressed confidence in reaching an agreement.

The union disagrees with Kaiser Permanente’s claims regarding wages, asserting that the current proposals fall short of their demands. They argue for a $26 an hour minimum wage, while Kaiser Permanente proposes $21 an hour. The union also claims that Kaiser Permanente has made $3 billion in profits during the first six months of this year.

Both sides are continuing negotiations, but if a strike does occur, Kaiser Permanente has assured that they have comprehensive plans in place to ensure continued access to healthcare services for their members.

(Definitions: OPEIU – Office and Professional Employees International Union)

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