PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some staff — including much-needed nurses — at Kaiser Permanente is preparing to vote on authorizing a strike.
Joining members of multiple unions in the country, Kaiser Permanente staff represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals could vote on the strike within weeks. Four OFNHP-Kaiser contracts comprised of approximately 3,400 healthcare workers all expire this Sept. 30 — at which point any unit can hold a vote.
Kaiser Permanente registered nurses represented by OFNHP recently took a survey about how the company has handled the ongoing country-wide staffing shortage. When asked how they would respond if the vote on the strike took place right now, 93% of the survey’s participants said they would vote yes.
This potential strike comes as hospitals across the country are scrambling for nurses and other healthcare professionals. Hospitals in Portland are no exception — with Kaiser employees saying their top concern is the organization’s lack of safe staffing.
According to the Kaiser staff represented by the OFNHP, the company’s current proposals would “accelerate the already devastating staffing crisis,” which they say would put patients at risk.
“Striking is always our last resort, but Kaiser seems determined to push forward proposals that would hurt staff, patients, and our entire public health system,” Kaiser RN and OFNHP President Jodi Barschow said. “Kaiser needs to do the right thing and put our patients before profits.”
According to OFNHP, 42.2% of the nurses recently surveyed said that they are “considering leaving the field entirely over the treatment they have received at Kaiser.” Over 60% reportedly said they are considering leaving the company and nearly 60% are considering leaving their specific department — while 30-40% said they are considering leaving the medical field entirely.
However, OFNHP says its members are unified in their “demand for Kaiser to do the right thing, settle for a fair contract and fix the staffing crisis.”
OFNHP will hold a rally on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at the Kaiser Permanente building in Northeast Portland.
Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, responded with the following statement shared with KOIN 6 News:
“The last 20 months of this pandemic have been an incredibly challenging and stressful time to work on the front lines of health care. We are extremely grateful for our front-line health care workforce, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring, and to our labor partners who stood side-by-side with us through this unprecedented period in the history of health care.
“We have worked hard to ease the stresses that this pandemic has caused our people. Since early in the pandemic response, Kaiser Permanente has provided nearly $600 million in employee assistance to ensure that our front-line employees had access to alternate housing, special childcare grants, and additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure. When it became clear at year-end that the effects of the pandemic could reduce our workers’ performance bonuses, we chose to guarantee all eligible union-represented employees at least a 100% payout of their performance bonus, amounting to thousands of dollars a person on average.
“Kaiser Permanente and the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP) began national bargaining on April 20, 2021, and we continue to engage in negotiations. At the heart of our dispute is the fact that health care is increasingly unaffordable and escalating wages are half of the cost of health care. Our employees represented by OFNHP earn 27 percent above the average market wage. On August 25, we offered a proposal that includes wage increases for all current employees and no changes to the current retirement plan. It also guarantees no wage cuts for current employees. These increases are on top of the already market-leading pay and benefits our employees receive, as confirmed by independent wage surveys and the government’s own data compiled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. To help address future costs and ensure we continue to be affordable for our members, we are proposing a market-based compensation structure for those employees hired in 2023 and beyond that will allow our new employees to be paid above market wages on average, enabling us to continue attracting and retaining top talent.
“Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership was created 24 years ago and has a great track record of serving as the framework through which we can solve sometimes very difficult problems. Instead of abandoning it, in the spirit of the partnership we ask union leaders to continue to work constructively toward an agreement, rather than call on nurses and other employees to walk away from patients who need them during this pandemic.
“We believe continued discussion at the bargaining table is the best way to resolve issues and differences and reach an agreement.”