In Short

Overwhelming majority of Kaiser Permanente union members vote to strike

By: - October 11, 2021 10:45 am

Kaiser Permanente operates private hospitals, clinics and a research center in the Portland area and clinics elsewhere. They are experiencing severe staffing shortages. (Kaiser Permanente photo)

An overwhelming majority of nurses, physician assistants, lab specialists and others have voted to strike at Kaiser Permanente.

Nine out of 10 Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals participated in the days-long vote, with 96% endorsing a walkout.

Shane Burley, spokesman for the union, called the endorsement unprecedented.

“I’ve never seen a strike authorization vote like this,” Burley told the Capital Chronicle. “It’s astounding.”

The union represents 3,400 employees at Kaiser Permanente, which has two hospitals and clinics in the Portland area as well as clinics in McMinnville and the Salem area.

Burley said the union hopes the vote will spur Kaiser to finalize a new contract to replace one that expired Sept. 30. 

For a strike to happen, the union has to set a date for a walkout, giving Kaiser 10 days notice. The earliest the union could strike would be Oct. 22.

In February, the union called for a strike of technicians at the St. Charles Health System in central Oregon. After nine days, the two sides agreed to a proposal by a federal mediator and the technicians returned to work.

Burley said some of those workers won raises of 70%.

At Kaiser, the union is asking for raises around 3 to 4%, He said Kaiser has proposed 1%.

Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, released a statement following the union vote. 

We strongly believe that differences in bargaining are best worked out at the bargaining table, and we have a 24-year history of union partnership which proves that point,” the statement said. “We will continue to work collaboratively with OFNHP to reach an agreement that meets the interests of both parties.”

Kaiser Permanente cared for the first hospitalized Covid-19 patient in Oregon. It’s not clear whether any are in its hospitals now.

“In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff,” Kaiser said in its statement.

The last time workers at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon walked out was in 1988, Burley said.

Besides the wage increase, the union is worried about a Kaiser proposal to create a two-tier system in which new employees would start at a lower rate. Burley said over time that would have a “disastrous effect on the entire industry” by bringing down wages.

Kaiser Permanente also faces potential walkouts among tens of thousands of workers in four other states where union members have voted for a strike.

In Oregon, Burley said the federation plans to keep negotiating.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.