WASHINGTON, D.C. — Over 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers initiated a massive strike on Wednesday, staging walkouts at hospitals and medical centers spanning five states and the nation’s capital. This historic labor action marks the largest strike ever undertaken by healthcare workers in the United States.
The strike, led by nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals, commenced at 6 a.m. local time across numerous Kaiser facilities in California, Colorado, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, D.C., as reported by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.
Expected to last three days, the strike poses a significant disruption to healthcare services for nearly 13 million people, potentially affecting nonessential care such as routine checkups. However, hospitals and emergency departments will continue to operate, staffed by physicians, managers, and “contingent workers,” Kaiser’s Oakland headquarters stated. Kaiser Permanente stands as the largest provider of managed care services in the nation.
Negotiations between Kaiser management and union representatives are ongoing, with both parties working to overcome the impasse. A spokesperson for Kaiser confirmed that substantial progress had been made, with agreements reached on several specific proposals as of late Tuesday.
Workers’ concerns center on chronic understaffing, which they argue has boosted Kaiser’s profits while negatively impacting patient care and staff morale. Kaiser counters that it is doing its best in an industry facing a workforce shortage. Employees have expressed frustration at being stretched too thin, with insufficient time and support to care for an increasing number of patients.
Michael Ramey, an ultrasound technician at Kaiser for 27 years, described the situation as “heartbreaking” and “stressful.” He emphasized that understaffing affects both employee morale and patient treatment, leaving them unable to provide the quality of care patients deserve. Patients have complained about extended wait times for medical procedures, leading to a breakdown in the quality of care, according to Ramey.
Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center, pointed out that Kaiser workers are suffering burnout while attempting to perform the work of multiple individuals. As a result, patients are unable to receive the care they require due to Kaiser’s insufficient staffing levels.
In addition to addressing staffing concerns, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions is advocating for a $25 hourly minimum wage and annual pay increases of 7% for the first two years, followed by 6.25% for the subsequent two years.
Hospital strikes pose unique challenges due to the essential nature of healthcare services. Unlike strikes in other industries, the goal is not to shut down facilities but to address critical labor issues while maintaining patient safety and care.
This historic healthcare worker strike at Kaiser Permanente highlights the pressing need for solutions to the staffing crisis and other labor-related challenges facing the healthcare industry.