Large-Scale Strike by US Healthcare Workers Across Multiple States Over Compensation and Staff Shortages

by Gabriel Martinez
Healthcare Strike

On Wednesday morning, a significant development unfolded as approximately 75,000 healthcare professionals commenced picketing at Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Virginia, California, and three other states. Their unified action is a response to pressing concerns regarding wages and staffing shortages, marking a substantial episode of labor unrest in the United States.

Kaiser Permanente, a non-profit organization headquartered in Oakland, California, operates 39 hospitals nationwide and provides health coverage to nearly 13 million individuals. It either directly administers care through its clinics and hospitals or partners with healthcare facilities to deliver services.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, representing around 85,000 of the health system’s employees nationwide, authorized a strike lasting three days in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, and one day in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The striking workforce encompasses licensed vocational nurses, home health aides, ultrasound sonographers, as well as technicians specializing in radiology, X-ray, surgical, pharmacy, and emergency departments.

Notably, doctors are not participating in the strike, and Kaiser has pledged to maintain the operations of its hospitals, including emergency rooms, during the picketing. The organization plans to hire thousands of temporary workers to fill the gaps created by the strike. However, it is anticipated that the strike could result in appointment delays and the rescheduling of non-urgent medical procedures.

This strike occurs in the backdrop of a surge in labor organizing efforts across various industries this year, including transportation, entertainment, and hospitality.

In the healthcare sector, this strike is the latest in a series of actions this year, with healthcare workers grappling with the enduring challenges of burnout and heavy workloads, which were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unions representing Kaiser workers have presented demands that include a $25 hourly minimum wage and annual wage increases of 7% for the first two years, followed by 6.25% in the subsequent two years.

Their contention is that understaffing, while bolstering the hospital system’s profits, has adverse consequences for patients. They also accuse Kaiser executives of negotiating in bad faith during discussions.

Mikki Fletchall, a licensed vocational nurse at a Kaiser medical office in Camarillo, California, asserted, “We’re striking because of our patients. We don’t want to have to do it, but we will do it.”

Kaiser has countered with proposed minimum hourly wages ranging from $21 to $23, depending on the location.

Since 2022, the healthcare system has hired 51,000 additional workers, with plans to add 10,000 more by the end of the month. Despite reporting $2.1 billion in net income for the second quarter of this year on operating revenue exceeding $25 billion, Kaiser acknowledges ongoing challenges from inflation, labor shortages, and cost pressures.

Michelle Gaskill-Hames, a Kaiser executive, defended the organization, asserting that their compensation, practices, and retention rates surpass those of competitors, despite the sector’s shared challenges. She highlighted that Kaiser’s turnover rate is just 7%, compared to the industry standard of 21%, even in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The workers’ previous contract was negotiated in 2019, preceding the pandemic.

In recent years, hospitals have grappled with elevated labor costs, staffing deficiencies, and escalating levels of uncompensated care. Rick Gundling, a senior vice president with the Healthcare Financial Management Association, explained that most hospital revenue is fixed, primarily derived from government-funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Consequently, revenue growth largely hinges on increasing patient volumes, which remains challenging, particularly in the current climate.

As employees increasingly advocate for better wages, improved working conditions, and job security, healthcare providers are confronted with a heightened demand for their workforce, making labor actions more frequent.

In California, legislative measures are being considered that would incrementally raise the minimum wage for the state’s 455,000 healthcare workers to $25 per hour over the next ten years, with a decision pending from Governor Gavin Newsom by October 14.

Contributions by Tom Murphy, Big Big News Writer in Indianapolis.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Healthcare Strike

What is the reason behind the healthcare worker strike at Kaiser Permanente hospitals?

The strike is primarily driven by concerns related to wages and staffing shortages. Healthcare workers are demanding better compensation and addressing the understaffing issues they believe are affecting patient care.

How many healthcare workers are participating in this strike?

Approximately 75,000 healthcare workers have gone on strike across multiple states, including Virginia, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Washington, D.C.

Are doctors participating in this strike?

No, doctors are not participating in the strike. Kaiser Permanente has stated that its hospitals, including emergency rooms, will remain open during the strike, with plans to hire temporary workers to fill in for striking staff.

What are the key demands of the striking healthcare workers?

The striking workers are demanding a $25 hourly minimum wage and annual wage increases of 7% for the first two years, followed by 6.25% in the subsequent two years. They are also highlighting concerns about understaffing and its impact on patient care.

How has Kaiser Permanente responded to the strike?

Kaiser Permanente has proposed minimum hourly wages ranging from $21 to $23 depending on the location. The organization has also indicated that it will bring in temporary workers to maintain hospital operations during the strike.

What is the broader context of labor actions in the healthcare sector?

This strike is part of a broader trend of labor organizing and strikes in the healthcare industry this year. Healthcare workers have been dealing with the challenges of burnout and heavy workloads, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is there any legislative action related to healthcare worker wages in California?

Yes, the California legislature is considering a bill that would increase the minimum wage for the state’s 455,000 healthcare workers to $25 per hour over the next decade. The decision on this bill rests with Governor Gavin Newsom, who has until October 14 to decide whether to sign or veto it.

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GrammarNazi October 5, 2023 - 6:26 am

Many grammar and spelling mistakes in comments. We need to write more clearly and correctly to convey information accurately.

HealthNewsFan October 5, 2023 - 7:41 am

Strike cuz wages n staffing, not gud 4 patients. Docs not in it. Demands: more $$$. CA bill 4 min wage? Gov decide soon!

Reader123 October 5, 2023 - 10:46 am

wow, big strike in USA healthcare! workers demnding better pay n staffin! Kaiser says they open, hiring temp workers! Big issue 4 patients!


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