Colorado health care workers on strike after failed Kaiser Permanente negotiations
Thousands of health care workers in Colorado are on strike after Kaiser Permanente and union leadership failed to reach a contract agreement.
Colorado has 3,000 health care workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 105 on strike for three days across nearly 30 clinics throughout the Front Range, starting Wednesday. Medical assistants, patient registration and call center staff, schedulers, lab and imagery technicians and others have left their jobs for the picket lines, and Kaiser plans to keep its facilities open with the help of temporary workers.
SEIU Local 105 members and a coalition of other unions from around the country are asking for higher wages and improved working conditions for their members while negotiating with Kaiser for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The deadline to reach an agreement ahead of a strike was Saturday, and despite continued negotiations after that, Kaiser and union leaders still did not reach an agreement.
“Kaiser’s refusal to bargain in good faith has pushed us to the brink, and workers will be taking action at every single patient-facing facility in Colorado,” SEIU Local 105 said in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “We are calling on Kaiser executives to meet us at the bargaining table in good faith and listen to the frontline workers who know the industry the best and to provide concrete solutions to Kaiser’s staffing crisis.”
Across the country, 75,000 Kaiser staff members in Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Maryland are leaving the job for a three-day strike. The strike is the largest health care strike in U.S. history.
Kaiser Permanente and the coalition agreed in April to accelerate hiring to a goal of 10,000 new people under coalition representation by the end of 2023, and Kaiser now expects to reach that goal by the end of October or sooner, Kaiser Permanente spokesperson Andrew Sorensen told Newsline before the strike started. He said Kaiser is offering the unions wage increases to keep their pay above local market rates and an increased minimum wage.
Sorensen had yet to respond to a Newsline request for comment by the time of publication after the strike started Wednesday.
‘We have to do this’
Joe Fiala is a licensed practical nurse who has worked with Kaiser for almost 10 years. He works in the clinic and primary care facilities at the Kaiser Permanente Lakewood Medical Offices and is serving as a strike lead with SEIU Local 105.
Fiala said he and his colleagues are striking so patients can have a better experience and improved access to care through Kaiser.
“A lot of people can’t get in right away and the management will not come to the table,” Fiala said. “They refuse to look at any possible solutions that we have to help increase patient access.”
People passing by and seeing the health care workers striking have been very supportive, Fiala said, dropping off food and drinks as the union members stand in the heat. Cars driving by the strikers also honked in support. He said he hopes Kaiser responds to the strike by bringing real solutions to the table and meeting union workers halfway.
“I’m proud to be here,” Fiala said. “I’d rather be inside taking care of patients, but unfortunately, this is what we have to come to. To help patients out, we have to do this.”
Fiala said while everyone in health care is feeling the effects post-pandemic of a smaller workforce, health networks like Kaiser aren’t doing anything to help bring in new workers. At the Lakewood center, he said low staffing has been their biggest concern.
Colorado state Rep. Stephanie Vigil, a Colorado Springs Democrat, said she is joining health care workers on the picket lines in Colorado Springs Wednesday.
“Healthcare workers are essential to the health and flourishing of our communities, and they deserve not only thriving wages and benefits, but also safety on the job and a healthy work-life balance,” Vigil said in a statement. “The staff who serve alongside doctors and nurses value patient care deeply, and nobody wants to strike, but if withholding their labor is the only way to get a fair contract, I support their decision.”