More than 2,000 Kaiser pharmacists plan to strike this month

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente pharmacists in Northern California are planning to go on strike this month. Kaiser is telling its patients to refill prescriptions before that happens. 

After five months of bargaining, the Guild for Professional Pharmacists, the union that represents Kaiser's pharmacists in Northern California, gave Kaiser a notice Friday that the union's about 2,500 pharmacists would go on strike for a week starting on November 15. But this is not the only Kaiser strike that could start on that day. 

"Kaiser took actions to end negotiations prematurely, engaged in direct dealing with members, imposed unreasonable deadlines for contract ratification together with an "exploding offer"/regressive bargaining, refused to arbitrate contract grievances, and otherwise interfered with the Guild’s right and ability to represent its members," the Guild for Professional Pharmacists said in a statement.

But Kaiser is calling its proposal "respectful and generous."

"We have proposed to the Guild a contract that contains no takeaways and fulfills the majority of what the Guild has sought. The proposal includes wage increases over four years, including a 3 percent increase in year one, and a 2 percent increase plus 2 percent bonus each year thereafter."

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Kaiser also said its proposals would keep Kaiser pharmacists among the highest paid in the profession, saying "the cash value of this contract is the richest contract offered to Guild members by Kaiser Permanente in the past decade."

"Hopefully negotiations will continue and hopefully some resolution will be achieved," said Michael Bernick, the former Employment Development Department Director and a current employment attorney at Duane Morris in San Francisco.  

Bernick said the strike notice is required by law, but it doesn't necessarily mean a strike will happen on November 15. 

But there's already a strike happening outside of local Kaiser facilities. Local 39's stationary engineers are starting their eighth week on strike.

And about 32,000 Kaiser employees in Southern California, Oregon and Washington are also planning to strike starting on November 15. This strike, including registered nurses, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others, is completely separate from the Guild's strike. 

So why are we seeing all of these labor disputes right now? 

Bernick said it's a combination of California's healthcare industry being highly unionized with "very aggressive and sophisticated unions," and nationwide labor dynamics.  

"Strike activity is up over 2020, back to the levels it was at 2018 and 2019 nationwide," said Bernick. 

There's also a huge movement of people quitting their jobs. In August, 4.3 million people quit. That's the highest number seen since 2001.

But despite this data and recent strike notices, Bernick is confident the state's healthcare system is still healthy.

"We have nearly 1.7 million workers just in the healthcare sector alone statewide," said Bernick. "I think some people are burned out from the work during the pandemic, but overall it’s a sector that from an employment point of view, in very good shape." 

If you're a Kaiser patient, Bernick said you shouldn't worry. 

Kaiser said it has a plan if the strike does happen. 

"Kaiser Permanente has contingency plans to continue to provide our members and patients with access to the pharmacy services they need. In the event of a strike we will communicate information to our members about accessing pharmacy services during a strike," Kaiser said in a statement.