By Mike Pappas / Left Voice
The largest health care strike in U.S. history has begun, as more than 75,000 workers at Kaiser Permanente walked off the job this morning. The scheduled three-day labor stoppage comes after Kaiser failed to meet the demands of workers, continuing to prioritize their profits over patient care.
The striking coalition includes eight unions representing health care workers from a variety of job descriptions and covers Kaiser facilities in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, and Washington City. This represents about 40% of all Kaiser Permanente staff, according to spokeswoman Renee Saldana of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare (SEIU-UHW)—the largest union in the coalition.
The union’s contract with the company expired over the weekend, and workers are demanding a significant staffing increase, alleviation of grueling work hours, wage increases that outpace inflation, and benefits for retired staff in the industry. Additionally, they are noting that their poor working conditions lead to poor patient care. This represents a common theme for healthcare workers attempting to provide quality patient care in a capitalist healthcare system that continually puts profit over patient wellbeing.
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Healthcare workers are becoming increasingly fed up with the working conditions imposed by the U.S. healthcare system. They are tired of seeing the wellbeing of patients being sacrificed at the altar of profit. They are also tired of having their own well being destroyed by the continual exploitation they face under this system. One healthcare worker preparing to picket outside a Kaiser Hospital location in North Hollywood said, “We just can’t go on with this staffing crisis.”
Kaiser Permanente is the largest private hospital and healthcare management consortium in the United States, bringing together a broad spectrum of healthcare workers including nurses, X-ray technicians, pharmacists, optometrists, and other job titles. The company serves 12.7 million people in California, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Hawaii, Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The private health care corporation has reported more than $3 billion in profits in the first half of 2023 and has paid at least 49 corporate executives salaries in excess of $1 million a year. Despite these profits, the company continues to impose strenuous working conditions on staff, continually under-staffing and under-paying.
While this initial strike is planned for just three days, the SEIU-UHW union said the coalition is prepared to launch a “longer and stronger” strike in November, when another contract expires in Washington State. This could extend the stoppage to even more workers.
Healthcare workers at Kaiser are joining a wave of strikes sweeping the United States—hundreds of thousands of workers have walked off the job. We are seeing worker action in sectors ranging from the auto industry—with the struggle of the 146,000 members of the UAW union against Ford, GM, and Stellantis—to Hollywood screenwritersand actors, to the 53,000 hotel workers in Las Vegas who voted last week to strike. In addition to the common struggle for wages that exceed the inflation of recent years, the end of tiered wages and varied pensions and health plans, striking workers are increasingly putting forward more radicalized demands, such as that of the auto workers for the reduction of the work week without a reduction in wages.
Workers are beginning a new October of struggles and strikes and are preparing for an autumn of discontent, fighting exploitative bosses around the country.
Mike is an activist and medical doctor working in New York City.