WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walked off the job nationwide on Wednesday after the health system and unionized employees failed to reach a new contract agreement.
The picket line caught the public's attention. Workers striking outside Kaiser in Walnut Creek showed up in force with drums, signs and their voices.
"The biggest thing is making sure our patients are well taken care of and getting the care they deserve," said Julian Robinson, an MRI technician from Kaiser in Walnut Creek.
From San Jose and Santa Clara to Fremont, and South San Francisco, KTVU saw hundreds of employees at each location Wednesday morning marking day one of a three day strike over what they say is unfair labor practices and unsafe staffing levels.
"We're constantly short staffed. We're constantly having to close rooms, so we have to delay patients. Its delayed patient care," said Joshua Barba, an operating room tech from Kaiser in Walnut Creek.
Jelani Moses, a Kaiser cashier and receptionist said the staffing crisis is serious. "I have to listen to them tell me before they're able to see a doctor. It's really sad."
Workers say the staffing crisis worsened after the pandemic.
"All of us frontline workers kept coming to our executives and letting them know, we need these positions back filled. They would not listen to us," said Yvette Esquivel, a medical assistant at Kaiser in Gilroy.
A spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente says management and coalition union representatives are still at the bargaining table with progress made and some agreements reached on several specific proposals late Tuesday.
"We remain committed to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages, excellent benefits, generous retirement income plans, and valuable professional development opportunities." a Kaiser spokesperson said.
"That's the problem is they waited until the final hour to start bargaining in good faith," Robinson said.
This is the largest health care worker strike in U.S. history with thousands picketing outside hospitals and facilities across the U.S., including Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.
Kaiser is based in Oakland. Mayor Sheng Thao said she's hopeful a deal will be reached.
"I totally respect the workers' rights to make sure they have a voice and to bargain in good faith and find a resolution," Mayor Thao said.
"I'm very hopeful because I want my patients taken care of," said one unidentified picketer.
Late Wednesday, Kaiser updated us on their current offers which include:
- Wage increases in all markets over the next 4 years
- $23 an hour minimum wage in California and a $21 an hour outside California
- Enhancing existing health benefits and retirement plans
If the strike runs all three days, it would end at 6 a.m. on Saturday. Kaiser says the strike does not involve the nurses' union or physicians. Hospitals and emergency rooms remain open, but some non-urgent appointments may need to be rescheduled.
In a late statement from the coalition of Kaiser Permanente unions, a spokesperson wrote:
"Frontline healthcare workers are awaiting a meaningful response from Kaiser executives regarding some of our key priorities, including safe staffing, outsourcing protections for incumbent healthcare workers and fair wages to reduce turnover. Healthcare workers within the coalition remain ready to meet at any time. Currently, the strike continues and there are no sessions scheduled at this hour.