‘We’re Unable To Take The Disrespect’: A Kaiser Strike Could Limit Patient Care, Workers Say It’s Necessary

September 17, 2019
The Kaiser Permanente facility in Lone Tree, Colo.The Kaiser Permanente facility in Lone Tree, Colo.John Daley/CPR News
The Kaiser Permanente facility in Lone Tree, Colo.

Unions representing more than 80,000 workers at health giant Kaiser Permanente announced strikes scheduled for October 14. That includes more than 3,000 people in Colorado.

That strike could mean limits in care available to Kaiser patients, but it is unclear just what that might mean. Kaiser Permanente officials said it would ensure patient care doesn't suffer as a result.

"We definitely understand the hardship that this may cause, but we're unable to take the disrespect," said customer service representative Sade Kiel. "Kaiser Permanente is not only messing with our wages, but it's patient safety; it's workplace safety."

The potential strike would affect a variety of technicians, nursing and medical assistants and others. Doctors, registered nurses and mental health workers won't be part of a strike.

Layoffs and insufficient salary raises are making it untenable to work at Kaiser, Kiel said. She also said she doesn't think the level of patient care will be lowered significantly by a strike because Kaiser's layoffs have already damaged the ability of workers to care for patients.

Kaiser said they are offering workers a 1 percent raise. The union is asking for 3 and 4 percent raises.

"The cost of living here in Colorado is constantly increasing and in order to live comfortably, we will definitely need a little bit more than a 1 percent raise," Kiel said. "Kaiser Permanente's greed is taking over what Kaiser Permanente is really about. They have lost that vision of patient and member focus. They are primarily focusing on profit."

There are plans in place to secure patient care in the event of a strike, according to Kaiser spokesperson Amy Whited, who did not provide additional details into what those plans may be.

Whited said the union has not given official notice of a strike. State law requires 10 days notice.

Another sticking point for the union is the two-tiered benefits system being offered by Kaiser. New employees would not have access to the same benefits as current employees, according to union president Ron Ruggiero. The union said Kaiser's offer also doesn't provide any protection against outsourcing, something Kiel worries about in her customer service job.

"In this period of unprecedented financial success, which our members have obviously helped contribute to, there is absolutely no reason for them offering the worst raises in over 20 years," Ruggiero said.

The strike would last for one week, Ruggiero said.

Colorado Public Radio gave Kaiser Permanente officials several opportunities to do a recorded interview, all of which they declined. They provided a written statement.

Negotiations will continue Sept. 23 and 24.