Southern California union members working at Kaiser Permanente voted in favor of authorizing a strike against the health care company after months of failed negotiations, the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) announced Monday.
More than 18,000 members of the 21,000 registered health care professionals from UNAC/UHCP voted online from Oct. 1 to 10 on whether to authorize a strike, with 96% of participants voting in favor of it, according to the union. Such a move would impact Southern California Kaiser locations, including ones in San Diego County.
The vote comes after months of bargaining between the union and health care company on employee wages, staffing, benefits and other related topics.
“We’ve been in negotiations since April 2021,” a UNAC/UHCP spokesperson said in a press release. “UNAC/UHCP is focused on recruiting nurses and other health care workers as severe shortages put patient care at risk.”
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Nikki Avey, a San Diego-based Kaiser Permanente nurse who is in favor of union members' vote, told NBC 7 she wasn't surprised by the results.
"I think this has been a long time coming," Avey said. "Nurses and health care professionals have really felt like this for some time and it’s sad that it’s come to this point, but I feel like their voices are not being heard and this is finally a chance to be heard."
Avey added that the counteroffers Kaiser Permanente presented to the unions felt like what she described as a "slap in the face."
"Nurses and health care professionals have earned every bit of what we have fought for," she said.
UNAC/UHCP is part of the Alliance of Health Care Unions.
Before a strike can occur, unions are required to provide employers a 10-day notice of any possible work stoppage, so the vote does not mean workers will walk off the job immediately.
Kaiser Permanente said in a statement that its priority is to “continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care.” It added that in the event of a strike, its facilities would still be staffed by physicians and trained managers and contingency staff.
"It is still a work in progress and ultimately, we want that tentative agreement that both sides are happy," Avey said. She added that she hopes the strike vote would motivate Kaiser to come to an agreement with union members.
Union members and Kaiser will continue bargaining this week.
See below for a full statement from Kaiser Permanente senior vice president of human resources, Arlene Peasnall:
At Kaiser Permanente, we are proud to be one of the most unionized health care organizations in the country. Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor, and labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to give more people access to high-quality care and make care more affordable. We remain committed to working together with labor for our workforce, our members, and the communities that rely on us.
Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance of Health Care Unions began national bargaining in April 2021. We worked late into the evening on September 30, 2021, before the contract expired, but we were not able to reach an agreement or agree on terms for a contract extension. It is not uncommon to continue negotiating without a contract in place, and we are committed to resolving this quickly. We have made progress in many important areas, have extended an initial economic offer, and will continue to work collaboratively with the Alliance to reach an agreement that meets the interests of both parties.
We strongly believe that differences in bargaining are best worked out at the bargaining table, and we have a 24-year history of partnership with the unions in the Alliance that proves it. We understand that some union leaders are now calling for a strike authorization vote, even though our members and communities are continuing to face the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. A strike authorization does not automatically trigger a strike. Unions still would be required to provide us with a 10-day notification before any work stoppage could commence.
We ask that our employees reject a call to walk away from the patients who need them. Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.
We are extremely grateful for our front-line health care employees, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring.