Healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente resumed talks with union workers on Friday, more than a week after the employees went on strike.
Contract negotiations had broken down on October 4, sparking a strike of one to three days in various states and DC by 75,000 nurses, medical technicians and support staff who are members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.
Kaiser Permanente provides health insurance coverage for nearly 13 million people and operates 39 hospitals nationwide. It reported $2.1 billion in net income for this year’s second quarter on more than $25 billion in operating revenue. But the company has also asserted that it’s still dealing with costs and challenges from inflation and labor shortages.
In August, union reps had asked for a $25 hourly minimum wage, as well as increases of 7% each year in the first two years and 6.25% each year in the two years afterward.
They say understaffing is boosting the hospital system’s profits but hurting patients, and executives have been bargaining in bad faith.
An additional sticking point that has emerged: the unions say Kaiser’s outsourcing of healthcare duties to third-party vendors and subcontactors.
Kaiser has proposed minimum hourly wages of between $21 and $23 next year depending on the location.
Since 2022, Kaiser’s hospital system has hired 51,000 workers and has plans to add 10,000 more people by the end of October.
Talks have been dragging on for six months. The workers’ last contract expired on September 30, and negotiators were meeting Friday under a strike deadline for next month set by union reps.
The walkout last week has sent Kaiser into the heart of growing labor unrest in the United States, which has only been aggravated within the healthcare industry by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last year, six unions representing a total of 32,000 nurses launched strikes outside of hospital systems across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Those strikes represented about one-fourth of all the major strikes in the U.S. in 2022, an increase from the year before.
In January, more than 7,000 nurses went on strike for three days at two private New York City hospital systems. Their walkout ended when they came to a deal for “safe staffing ratios” for all inpatient units “so that there will always be enough nurses at the bedside to provide safe patient care, not just on paper.”
But in the aftermath of that strike, overworked nurses across the country were warning that it was just a matter of time before they and other frontline hospital workers walked the picket line.