LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Nearly 60,000 unionized health care workers across the state voted overwhelmingly to authorize their union to call a strike if labor talks break down with Kaiser Permanente.
According to the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, the workers voted by a 98% margin in favor of a walkout of a labor contract can't be reached. The vote does not mean a strike will occur. It only authorizes the union to call one if union leaders deem contract talks to be at a stalemate.
Union officials said if a walkout occurs, it could be the largest health-care strike in U.S. history.
"For weeks, Kaiser sent us messages telling us to reject a strike," Miriam De La Paz, a Labor and Delivery Unit secretary at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Downey, said in a statement released by the union. "Their millionaire executives implied we were imagining the delays in care our patients are experiencing and ignored the fact that our families are struggling more and more to keep up with the rising cost of living. Instead, workers are rejecting short staffing and inadequate pay, and we will be going on strike if Kaiser doesn't stop committing unfair labor practices."
The union accused Kaiser of cutting performance bonuses for employees, failing to protect employees against subcontracting, offering wages that fail to keep pace with inflation and falling short in efforts to maintain adequate staffing levels.
Kaiser officials issued a statement Thursday saying the health care provider is "confident we'll reach an agreement before the national agreement expires on Sept. 30 that strengthens our position as a best place to work and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easy to access."
According to Kaiser, two bargaining sessions are scheduled for next week. Kaiser officials said the company is offering "across the board wage increases," with a minimum wage starting at $21 an hour.
The health care provider denied the union's various allegations, including that it is slashing performance bonuses and raising premiums for members without any relation to health care costs or improvements in care.
"In Southern California, where our wages significantly exceed market levels, we are offering wage increases of 10% over four years plus lump sum bonuses of 4%, to keep our employees well compensated," according to Kaiser.