Striking healthcare workers
Healthcare workers in San Diego demonstrate on Wednesday, as a coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions representing 75,000 employees began a three day strike across the United States. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Health care workers for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California began a three-day strike Wednesday in what their union says in the largest of its type in U.S. history as continuing contract negotiations failed to produce an agreement.

The strike by the union representing 75,000 Kaiser employees nationwide began on the East Coast at 3 a.m. and at 6 a.m. in Southern California.

The walkout began as both parties continued negotiations.

“Both Kaiser Permanente management and coalition union representatives are still at the bargaining table, having worked through the night in an effort to reach an agreement,” said Terry Kankari, senior media relations specialist for Kaiser, in a statement.

“There has been a lot of progress, with agreements reached on several specific proposals late Tuesday,” according to the statement. “We remain committed to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages, excellent benefits, generous retirement income plans, and valuable professional development opportunities.”

On Monday, Kaiser officials said a strike “is not inevitable and it is certainly not justified. Our goal is to reach a fair and equitable agreement that strengthens Kaiser Permanente as a best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access.”

The union, however, continued circulating plans for picketing.

“Kaiser executives are refusing to listen to us and are bargaining in bad faith over the solutions we need to end the Kaiser short-staffing crisis,” said Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center, in a statement released by the union Monday.

“I see my patients’ frustrations when I have to rush them and hurry on to my next patient. 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.”

Local picketing is scheduled at San Diego Zion Hospital, La Mesa Medical Offices, San Diego Medical Center, San Marcos Medical Center and Otay Mesa Medical Offices.

The workers’ contract expired Saturday, but bargaining continued over the weekend and again Monday and Tuesday.

The workers involved in the strike include licensed vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, radiology technicians, ultrasound sonographers, teleservice representatives, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, certified nursing assistants, dietary services, behavioral health workers, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians, transporters, home health aides, phlebotomists and medical assistants, union officials said.

The union has accused Kaiser of cutting performance bonuses for employees, failing to protect employees against subcontracting, offering wages that fail to keep pace with inflation and falling short in efforts to maintain adequate staffing levels.

According to Kaiser, the company is offering “across the board wage increases,” with a minimum wage starting at $21 an hour. The health care provider denied allegations it is slashing performance bonuses and raising premiums for members without any relation to health care costs or improvements in care.

“In Southern California, where our wages significantly exceed market levels, we are offering wage increases of 10% over four years plus lump sum bonuses of 4%, to keep our employees well compensated,” according to Kaiser.

City News Service contributed to this article.


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