37,000 Kaiser workers in California vote to approve October strike
Kaiser Permanente workers in California have voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike in October that would be the largest in the United States in 20 years, according to a coalition of the health care giant's unions.
The authorization to strike, approved by 98 percent of the union members who voted, does not mean a walkout will happen, but it does allow union leaders to call one whenever they want, giving them leverage in negotiations.
The workers belong to the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, the largest union in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. They include most non-M.D. staff such as x-ray technicians, some nurses, janitors and receptionists.
The employees have been working under an expired national contract since September, but their local contracts are still in effect.
Kaiser workers say they are seeking wage increases that middle-class families can live on, preservation of healthcare benefits and staffing increases to shore up current inadequacies. They accuse the company of unfair labor practices and of focusing on making billions of dollars in profits instead of providing the best patient care.
Kaiser responded in a statement Monday that described the union's actions as "counterproductive and simply a bullying tactic designed to pressure us during the contract bargaining process."
The company said employees are already compensated 23 percent above market rates.
If the other 10 unions represented by the coalition follow suit in votes scheduled for the coming weeks, a potential national strike could draw in more than 80,000 workers.
A strike occurring at Kaiser hospitals and medical clinics would be the nation's largest since the Teamsters' walkout at United Parcel Service in 1997.
Kaiser Permanente, based in Oakland, is the No. 1 employer in the Bay Area, with more than 31,000 employees.
Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Digital Reporter. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate.