4,000 NUHW Members and 17,000 California Nurses Association Members to Engage in Largest Strike in Kaiser’s History

NewsSeptember 9, 2011

NUHW issues official notice of giant health insurer’s first ever statewide strike

OAKLAND – Yesterday, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) issued official notice to Kaiser Permanente of the union’s plan to engage in a statewide strike by 4,000 Kaiser caregivers should management continue to refuse to bargain in good faith toward a fair contract that safeguards quality patient care and that leaves workers’ benefits intact.

Despite enjoying record profits over the last two years, Kaiser administrators are insisting on implementing major reductions to workers’ healthcare coverage and retirement benefits. NUHW members have refused to roll over and accept management’s demands, and are holding the line against cuts which Kaiser intends to impose upon tens of thousands more employees represented by other unions as their contracts come up for renewal over the next several years.

The California Nurses Association, which represents 17,000 Registered Nurses at Kaiser, will join NUHW members in the largest strike in Kaiser’s history. Workers will walk off the job for one-, two- and three-day durations from September 21st to 23rd.

Despite its tax-exempt status as a “non-profit” charity, Kaiser Permanente has made $5.7 billion in profits since 2009. In the first six months of this year alone, the company generated $1.6 billion in profits. Kaiser’s Chief Executive Officer, George Halvorson, was paid close to $8 million in total compensation in 2009, and numerous top managers at Kaiser enjoy lavish salaries, bonuses and perks, including as many as eight separate pension plans per executive.

In spite of this enviable financial performance, Kaiser administrators are insisting on shifting the costs of healthcare coverage onto Kaiser workers, replacing workers’ defined benefit pension plan with an inferior defined contribution plan, and eliminating healthcare coverage altogether for future retirees. At the same time, Kaiser continues to refuse to agree to implement contractually enforceable safe staffing guidelines for nurses at Kaiser LAMC, and staffing levels sufficient to guarantee timely access to appropriate care for mental health patients throughout the state.

Also in spite of its record profits, this year Kaiser has imposed double digit rate increases on hundreds of thousands of California policyholders and the small businesses that employ them, as well as on cash-strapped California school districts that are laying off thousands of teachers in order to close budget deficits.

NUHW and CNA caregivers are part of a growing number of union workers who are confronting multi-billion dollar corporations attempting to shift healthcare costs onto the backs of employees and their families. This month’s walkout will follow a major multi-state strike by tens of thousands of Verizon workers on the East Coast engaged in a similar struggle to resist cuts in healthcare benefits by an enormously profitable, brand-name corporation. The Kaiser strike will also occur as tens of thousands of grocery workers in Southern California prepare for the possibility of a multi-employer strike over the cost to workers of healthcare coverage.

Conversely, Kaiser Permanente, whose mission is “to provide affordable, high quality healthcare services,”1 can now be counted among a number of major employers that are actively undermining the affordability of care for thousands of American families.

The strike will take place at dozens of Kaiser hospitals and clinics from Sacramento to San Diego. At Kaiser’s flagship Southern California hospital, Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center (LAMC), over 1,100 NUHW-represented Registered Nurses will walk off the job for three days beginning on Wednesday, September 21st. Throughout the Southern California region, about 1,200 Social Workers and Psychologists will engage in a two-day strike on September 21st and 22nd. In Northern California, approximately 1,500 mental health professionals and optical workers will walk off the job for 24 hours beginning at 6am on the 22nd.

Members of the CNA will join NUHW caregivers on the picket line in a 24-hour sympathy strike on September 22nd. Although CNA nurses were spared the cuts Kaiser is attempting to force on other union workers in their last round of contract negotiations, they understand clearly that whatever Kaiser executives are able to force upon their NUHW co-workers today they will almost certainly attempt to impose on the nurses in the very near future.

“Kaiser is experiencing the most profitable period in its history, and executives like George Halvorson are being rewarded with salaries and benefits that compete with Fortune 500 CEOs,” said LaNeta Fitzhugh, a Registered Nurse at Kaiser LAMC. “But Kaiser administrators refuse to put that enormous financial success back into improving patient care. In fact, Kaiser refuses even to guarantee a minimum floor for staffing to keep patients safe and to protect their access to timely care. And now, Kaiser wants to cut workers’ benefits too, even though Kaiser executives have eight pension plans each! It’s outrageous.”

The strike notice issued today covers every NUHW member at Kaiser Permanente. NUHW-represented workers include RNs, Psychologists, Social Workers, Optical Workers, Health Educators, Dietitians, Speech Pathologists and Audiologists.

1Kaiser Mission Statement: http://mydoctor.kaiserpermanente.org/ncal/facilities/region/eastbay/area_master/about_us/missionstatement.jsp