Thousands of health care workers in Hawaii will join nationwide strike against Kaiser Permanente

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — After months of negotiations, nearly 2,000 UNITE HERE Local 5 members at Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii will join the nationwide strike against the company beginning Nov. 22. They join 32,000 health care workers across the nation fighting for a better contract.

The strike will impact 20 Kaiser Permanente facilities across Hawaii.

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UNITE HERE Local 5 in a statement said: “Workers are striking over wages and concerns about short staffing that the company has thus far failed to address. Months of negotiations have passed, and the unions saw minimal movement from Kaiser Permanente at the bargaining table. Kaiser Permanente’s latest proposal is an insulting 2% wage increase contingent upon union’s agreement to a two-tier wage system, which threatens to cut 26-33% of wages for all future hires. Kaiser Permanente also refuses to address the short-staffing impacting all its facilities. Workers report being stressed, overworked, and burnt out while taking care of our community throughout the pandemic.”

Ninety-three percent of those who voted authorized a strike.

Arlene Peasnall, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Kaiser Permanente, released the following statement:

­Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States. Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor.  Labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to provide more people with access to high-quality care and to make care more affordable.

We have been engaged in national bargaining with the Alliance of Health Care Unions since April and have made progress in many important areas, reaching tentative agreements on the funding of a workforce development trust and several sub-committee recommendations. We have been meeting regularly since late September and believe an agreement that meets the interests of all is very possible.

The challenge we are trying to address in partnership with our unions is the increasingly unaffordable cost of health care. And the fact is, wages and benefits account for half of Kaiser Permanente’s operational costs.

Over the course of our 24 years of labor partnership, we – labor and management – have negotiated wages and benefits primarily at a national level, so pay has not always been matched to the markets where we operate.  As a result, over time in many areas our wage rates have grown to the point where our union represented employees earn about 26% above the average market wage, and in some places it’s 38% above market. These numbers don’t include the value of our industry-leading benefits and retirement and pension plans along with the opportunity to earn an additional 3% bonus every year, based on our performance. ­

We are asking our labor partners to work with us to address this very real problem through an interest-based process, just as we have done with other challenges over the course of our partnership.

On November 2, Kaiser Permanente offered Alliance leaders an updated economic proposal that provides Alliance-represented employees as much as 4% a year in pay increases, with no takeaways to the market-leading benefits and retirement programs. The proposed wage increases are on top of the already market-leading pay and benefits our employees receive, as confirmed by independent wage surveys and the government’s own data compiled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Our proposal simply aims to slow the significant over-market growth in compensation while continuing to reward our employees and fulfill our commitment to our members and patients to provide high-quality, affordable health care.

We remain committed to working together with labor for the benefit of our workforce, members and the communities that rely on us. We believe we can reach an agreement with the Alliance that meets our shared interests and avoids an unnecessary and harmful strike, especially as we continue to battle this pandemic.

If a strike actually occurs, our facilities will be staffed by our trained and experienced managers and the contingency staff we are bringing in as needed, and our physicians will continue to be available to care for patients.

Arlene Peasnall, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Kaiser Permanente

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers on the mainland will go on strike during the second week of November. In Hawaii, negotiations between UNITE HERE! Local 5 and Kaiser Permanente continued over the weekend; however, 1,800 Hawaii workers could be joining the mainland workers soon.

This possible strike comes at a time hospitals statewide are once again overwhelmed, not by COVID patients, but patients resuming basic care and surgeries that were put on hold during the delta surge in summer 2021.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii said on Friday, Nov. 5, there were roughly 2,200 patients currently in hospitals across the state, which was about the same number during the peak of the delta surge.

“Hospitals are actually very, very busy; almost as busy as they were during the peak of the pandemic,” stated Hilton Raethel, Healthcare Association of Hawaii president.

Raethel said the peak of flu season is approaching and FEMA-funded staffing ends Saturday, Nov. 13.

“We expect them to be busy for a while, but we are coping well with the demand that hospitals are dealing with right now,” Raethel added.

FEMA staff came in summer 2021 as hospital workers were overwhelmed due to staffing shortages. Healthcare workers have said they are exhausted after 20 months of COVID.

A contract between Kaiser and the union expired on Sept. 30, and UNITE HERE! Local 5 said they have been in negotiations with Kaiser for months.

“We do not want to strike. We’ve been pushing and trying so hard with Kaiser over the last, almost, eight months to secure a good contract for healthcare workers; they did not move. They did not move at all.”

Bryant de Venecia, Communications Organizer for UNITE HERE! Local 5

He said they are seeing a little bit of progress, “but still not enough for health care workers. So, if healthcare workers don’t do anything, don’t fight for our rights, it’s going to impact all our patients, all of the health care workers here in Hawaii; all of our community, we’re fighting for everyone here. So, that’s our position. They’re not respecting workers right now, after almost 20 months of sacrifices and hard work.”

UNITE HERE! Local 5 said Kaiser Permanente offered a 1% pay raise and a two-tier wage system that would cut wages for future hires by one-third, and negotiations have moved up to 2% with the two-tier wage system. On Monday, November 8, Kaiser said On November 2, Kaiser Permanente offered Alliance leaders an updated economic proposal that provides Alliance-represented employees as much as 4% a year in pay increases, with no takeaways to the market-leading benefits and retirement programs.

“[Two-tier wages], we want equality for all of the employees that work with us coming on board,” said Lori Pua, Licensed Practical Nurse at Kaiser Permanente Hilo Clinic. “And it’ll affect future employees coming on board.”

At the end of October, UNITE HERE! Local 5 said 93% of Kaiser healthcare workers who voted, authorized a strike. The union represents medical assistants, licensed practical nurses, lab assistants, hospital aids, housekeepers and others.

“Equal job, equal pay rate, you know, we deserve that — everybody does — and that’s not just Kaiser alone; it’s just all workers, all Hawaii jobs, you know, we all deserve that chance,” said Leia Rabe, who is a healthcare worker.

To help with the state’s overall staffing shortage moving forward, Raethel said some hospitals are trying to have some of the FEMA-funded staff stick around.

“Right now we have well over 200 of these FEMA-funded staff who have transitioned from the FEMA contract to a hospital-based contract,” Raethel said. “Whether it’s a strike or whether it’s COVID, whether we’re going to get a bump potentially from either Thanksgiving or Christmas, New Year’s, that we have the capacity to take care of all the patients who need care across the state.”

After UNITE HERE! Local 5 workers authorized a strike, Kaiser Permanente sent out the following statement:

At Kaiser Permanente, we are proud of our history of having a highly unionized workforce. 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.

KAISER PERMANENTE STATEMENT

Find more COVID-19 news: cases, vaccinations on our Coronavirus News page

By law, a union must give a 10-day notice of a strike to a healthcare employer.

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