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Kaiser nurses on strike

Kaiser Permanente nurses hold signs and use bullhorns during an informational picket outside of the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center on November 10, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

'Solidarity Forever': 40,000 Kaiser Workers Set to Strike to Defend 700 Fellow Union Members

"An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us," said one nurse and labor advocate.

Julia Conley

Tens of thousands of nurses, technicians, and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California staged a walkout Thursday in sympathy with about 700 engineers who have been on strike for two months, calling on the company to offer the employees a fair contract and, advocates said, demonstrating the power of labor unions and solidarity between workers.
 
About 40,000 workers represented by Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare West (SEIU-UHW), Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 29, and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 20 will go on strike from 7:00 Thursday morning until 7:00 Friday morning.
 
The strike exemplified the labor movement's motto of "Solidarity Forever," tweeted labor organizer Shane Ruiz, co-chair of the East Bay chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
 
 
The engineers are represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)  Local 39, which announced late Wednesday that Kaiser's latest offer did not meet the workers' demands for competitive pay in the San Francisco Bay area—one of the most expensive places to live in the United States.
 
 
According to the engineers' union and the California Nurses Association (CNA), which represents thousands of nurses who are striking in solidarity, Kaiser Permanente has raked in $13 billion in profits since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, but the company has proposed to "float engineers among facilities" in its network of healthcare centers rather than increasing staffing, and has offered "the lowest raise in decades for Local 39 engineers that will not keep up up with other area hospitals."

"It's so important for working people to stand together, and we hope that with the nurses by their side, Kaiser engineers will win meaningful change for working people, and for safe patient care conditions."

 
"This model would institutionalize the staffing shortages that have already hurt patients and workers," said CNA in a statement. "Rather than accept this takeaway, engineers have been on strike for nearly two months."
 
According to the SEIU-UHW, the action will be the largest "sympathy strike" in recent history. 

"Nurses know the devastating impact that short staffing has on our community's health and well-being," said Cathy Kennedy, president of CNA. "We also know that in order to provide the safe patient care our communities need and deserve, we must be able to count on our coworkers and they must be able to count on us. So we are standing with the Kaiser engineers in their righteous fight for a safe and just workplace."

The company's failure to pay the workers adequately is the latest sign that Kaiser has "lost its way," said one health educator who planned to strike in solidarity.

The company "is putting its drive for profits over people, hurting our patients and union co-workers," Ethan Ruskin, who works at Kaiser San Jose, told The Mercury News. "The Local 39 engineers play a critical role in maintaining our facilities and the equipment we use to take care of patients."

Organizers expressed hope that the sympathy strike would put pressure on executives to offer the engineers adequate pay and staffing.

"One day longer, one day stronger!" striking healthcare workers chanted early Thursday morning on a picket line in Santa Rosa, California, led by Max Bell Alper, executive director of North Bay Jobs with Justice.
 
 
"An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us, so nurses will be standing in solidarity with our engineer colleagues as they go on strike this month," Kennedy, who works as a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, California, said in a statement. "It's so important for working people to stand together, and we hope that with the nurses by their side, Kaiser engineers will win meaningful change for working people, and for safe patient care conditions."
 
The sympathy strike comes as mental healthcare professionals at Kaiser have also been working under an expired contract since October 1, with the providers voting to authorize a strike earlier this month.
 
"We've been at the forefront in exposing Kaiser's greed in underfunding mental healthcare and forcing patients to wait months between therapy appointments," said Mickey Fitzpatrick, a Kaiser psychologist, in a news release earlier this month. "Now, we have the opportunity to stand together with other unions and show that Kaiser's greed is harming patients across California."

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