By Justin Yau
PORTLAND, Ore. – Union leaders for 3,400 nurses and other medical staff at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon set a Nov. 15 strike deadline on Thursday, threatening a walkout they said would idle some 30,000 workers overall unless contract talks make suitable progress.
The Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals is at odds with Kaiser over the medical network’s plan for a two-tiered wage system featuring a lower pay scale for newly hired employees than their more senior colleagues.
The union says such a system would deepen what the nurses describe as a staffing crisis in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic.
Labor leaders cite a survey of Kaiser nurses and other healthcare workers that found 42% were considering leaving the field over perceptions of mistreatment.
Kaiser ranks as one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit healthcare networks and managed-care organizations, with nearly 12.5 million plan members and operating revenues of nearly $24 billion last quarter.
The health network issued a statement saying it was “still hopeful that a labor disruption will be averted through our continued negotiations.”
Kaiser added that its union workforce in “many areas” of the country earn wages 26% to 38% above average market rates, which the union called inaccurate.
The union’s rank-and-file voted overwhelmingly on Oct. 11 to authorize a strike.
“Striking is out last resort, but it is what we must do so that we can protect our patients, our workers, and our entire public healthcare system,” union president Jodi Barschow, president of the Oregon Federation of Nurses, said in a statement announcing the strike deadline.
The union’s nearly 3,400 members in Oregon and southwestern Washington state – registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and lab technicians – will walk off the job starting 6 a.m. on Nov. 15 “unless negotiations improve” beforehand, the statement said.
The union said another 32,000 Kaiser workers from affiliated unions would effectively join the strike by refusing to cross picket lines, and that 8,000 more may follow shortly afterward in California, Washington, Hawaii and Colorado.
Kaiser operates 64 facilities in Oregon and southwestern Washington, including two hospitals and six urgent-care clinics.
Kaiser and unions representing more than 80,000 healthcare workers in California and six other states reached a labor contract in September 2019 that averted a strike.
The latest standoff comes amid a year of labor unrest across the United States on a variety of fronts, including a United Auto Workers union strike against tractor manufacturer John Deere.
(Reporting by Justin Yau in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Steve Gorman and Gerry Doyle)