An unprecedented strike movement has affected the American hospital group Kaiser Permanente since Wednesday. More than 75,000 employees in four states have stopped work and are demanding, among other things, pay increases.
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More than 75,000 employees of Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest hospital systems in the United States, began a three-day strike on Wednesday October 4 to demand better working conditions, the latest social conflict in a long list this year .
This is the most important movement to shake up health services in the United States, said the coalition of unions which called for this strike in California, Oregon, Virginia and Washington in particular, to denounce “unfair labor practices”.
The strike began in the morning on the East Coast before spreading, due to time difference, to the West Coast, where most of the group’s workforce is based. Kaiser Permanente operates dozens of hospitals and hundreds of medical centers.
Underpaid and overworked
On the picket lines in Los Angeles, workers said they were underpaid and overworked. “Since the pandemic, many colleagues have left and they have not been replaced,” Armando Velasco, radiologist technician, told AFP. “And now we are on the edge of the precipice,” he added.
For nurse Kathy Lozoya, the cost of living in Southern California is becoming more and more difficult to bear. “Kaiser Permanente has made billions of dollars in profits, all we are asking of Kaiser officials is to share those profits with the workers on the front lines,” she said.
Unions are demanding, among other things, salary increases and protections against the outsourcing of services. “Employees are really under pressure right now,” Renee Saldana, a spokesperson for one of the unions, SEIU-UHW, told CNN. With the Covid-19 pandemic, “they’ve been through the worst global health crisis in a generation, and then they come out of it and have to worry about paying their rent, they’re afraid of losing their home, they’re afraid of [devoir] live in their car,” she added.
Negotiations in progress
Kaiser Permanente, headquartered in Oakland, California, said it was “disappointed” by the strike call and said it planned to keep its medical centers open during the strike. However, longer wait times are to be expected, the group said.
Kaiser said Wednesday that “a lot of progress” had been made in the negotiations and that the parties had reached agreements on “several proposals Tuesday evening.” “Kaiser Permanente management and representatives of the coalition of unions are still at the negotiating table,” according to a press release cited by several media outlets.
In Maryland, Virginia and Washington, the strike is expected to last 24 hours. Most other participating employees must observe the movement for three days, until Saturday morning. If health workers’ demands are not met, a new strike could be organized in November, the coalition of unions has warned.
Against a backdrop of inflation, several high-profile strikes have been observed in the United States in recent months, from the automobile sector to the cinema and television sector.