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Kaiser Permanente workers authorize a strike as contract deadline looms

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions has been working with Kaiser Permanente to come to a new deal before their contract expires Sept. 30.

LITTLETON, Colo. — A potential strike at Kaiser Permanente locations is less than four weeks away. 

For months, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, including SEIU Local 105 in Colorado, has been working to come to a new deal with the healthcare giant before the current contract expires on Sept. 30. 

Negotiations between Kaiser Permanente and the unions will continue this coming week. With that contract deadline looming, 99% of SEIU Local 105's 3,000 Kaiser employees in Colorado have voted to authorize a strike. 

It's a tipping point that both sides are hoping to avoid. 

"Nobody wants to strike," said Paula Coleman, Executive Board Member of SEIU Local 105.

As a clinical lab assistant at the Kaiser Permanente medical clinic in Englewood, Coleman loves coming into work every day. 

"I love the work," Coleman said. "If you’re sick, we can find out through blood. If you’re healthy, we can find out through blood. It’s a really good feeling to be a part of that."

But over the past few years, she said, the shifts have gotten tougher.

"We're doing more with less. We're taking on more responsibilities. We're being asked to do more. They have been adding more tasks and duties to our job descriptions and calling it business need," Coleman said. 

She said with fewer staff in the clinic, patients end up waiting a lot longer just for the basics.

"It’s absolutely affecting patient care. Longer wait times for any department that you’re in," Coleman said. “It’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating when the patients come in, usually the lab is the last place they’re seen after their visit, and that’s kind of where they sit down and have that conversation. They're telling me how hard it is, they were upstairs waiting for an hour, then they got into the room it was another 45 minutes. It's just, it's heartbreaking because I can see their frustration. I hear their frustration." 

Coleman said this is a safety issue, too.

"Because if we're the only one there and something happens where we have to call 911 or nurse stat, what do we do? Do we run to the phone? Do we help the patient? Especially if we're the only one there, it's really hard," Coleman said. 

Kaiser Permanente declined to provide an on-camera interview over the holiday weekend, but a spokesperson said the company is committed to providing a safe work environment for employees.   

Kaiser said they're already hard at work trying to fill jobs. In a statement provided to 9NEWS, Kaiser said, "We hired over 29,000 new employees in 2022 and are on pace to exceed that substantially in 2023, despite the pandemic-driven labor shortage happening across health care. We believe this is because talented people recognize the value of our current wage and benefit offerings and want to work at Kaiser Permanente. About 96% of candidates for Coalition-represented positions accept our employment offers — significantly above the industry average."

Kaiser added that they're in the process of hiring an additional 10,000 workers, with 6,500 of those workers already hired. 

Coleman will be at the bargaining table this week, bringing concerns to Kaiser Permanente. 

Coleman said they'll be asking Kaiser to improve staffing levels, raise pay to help employees navigate the cost of living and inflation issues and address the longer wait times and gaps in patient care they're seeing in the clinics. 

Both sides have four more weeks to come together on a deal. 

"I personally don't want to strike but I will. I'll be the first one out there. Why? Because we deserve better. The patients deserve better, the communities that we serve deserve better," Coleman said. 

When it comes to the union's demand for the same wage increase for everyone, Kaiser responded in their statement, "This would not reflect market labor costs and would prevent us from addressing fair market wages."

Kaiser is urging employees to reject calls to strike and instead focus on caring for patients. 

While both sides say they're hopeful a deal on a new contract will be reached before the deadline, if they don't and the union strikes, it's unclear what that would mean for clinics and the patients that rely on them. 

The Kaiser spokesperson wouldn't get into the specifics of the impact to clinics in the event of a strike, saying in the statement, "We take any threat to disrupt care for our members seriously and have plans to ensure continued access to health care by our members, patients, and the communities we serve, should any union call for a strike. Our members, patients, and our communities need us to be there for them."


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