We’ve seen this before, but not to this scale. A hospital in New York sees a couple hundred of its nurses go on strike. A similar work stoppage occurs in a Michigan facility; and another healthcare-related walkout is reported down in Texas. These 2023 job actions are seen by many as nothing more than random, localized and one-off occurrences. But what do we do with last week’s historic joint-strike against Kaiser Permanente (KP) facilities in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington D.C.?
On October 4, over 75,000 healthcare workers walked off the job in a three-day action meant to send a loud message to management. This amounted to the largest strike involving healthcare workers in American history. “Random” and “local” no longer apply.
A spokesman for the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions (CKPU) said that KP employees decided to walk off the job in order to push for higher wages, better benefits and “an end to understaffing that threatens all of us as workers and patients.” Indeed, back in August, the coalition of unions had asked for a $25 hourly minimum wage, as well as increases of seven percent each year in the first two years and 6.25 percent each year in the two years afterward, according to an Associated Press (AP) report.
A spokesperson for Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, Hilary Costa, also made her pitch to the media, warning that a strike could cause delays in people getting appointments and scheduling non-urgent procedures. She assured the press that the company was working to reconvene bargaining “as soon as possible.”
The work stoppage had been scheduled to run from Wednesday 6 a.m. until Saturday 6 a.m. (PT) of last week. Since it was announced ahead of time that this was to be limited to a three-day demonstration, the apparent intent of CKPU was to get the attention of KP decisionmakers, rather than force their hand by way of a walkout of indefinite duration.
According to one KP official, the pre-planned event had already created some headway in the addressing of union concerns. Wayne Davis, spokesperson for the large non-profit health system, told the Daily News that there had been “a lot of progress, with agreements reached on several specific proposals late Tuesday.” However, according to CKPU, no deal had been reached at the conclusion of the strike on Saturday. Bargaining discussions were scheduled to resume on Thursday. If no deal is reached, there is the strong prospect of a more protracted union action that could bring financial pain to both sides.
A long strike would be a significant burden for all involved—those living paycheck to paycheck but also the facilities. There are clearly costs that both sides will need to consider.
Out at Home
This issue is not going away. Regardless of which side has the better argument, we are likely to see an increase in work stoppages at healthcare facilities if employees continue to perceive that they are being treated unfairly relative to wages, benefits and working conditions.
According to Nurse.org, the current year has seen a significant rise in nursing strikes, with more and more nurses leveraging their union membership to fight for better pay and safer working conditions. A visit to their website uncovered the following list of pending nursing strikes at the following facilities:
- Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey (Marina del Rey, California)
- Dana-Farber Cancer Institute-Merrimack Valley (Boston, Massachusetts)
- Ascension Saint Joseph-Joliet (Joliet, Illinois)
- Catherine of Siena Hospital (Smithtown, New York)
Pre-strike picketing and rallies were recently reported in the following locations:
- Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital (Hollister, California)
- Allegheny General Hospital (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
- Saint Louis University Hospital (Saint Louis, Missouri)
- Providence St. Mary Medical Center (Apple Valley, California)
- Jackson Park Hospital (Chicago, Illinois)
Nurse.org, asserts that strike pay is considered a type of crisis pay, so nurses are often paid a premium rate for these contracts. The pay is also guaranteed, even if the strike doesn’t happen. Depending on the facility, replacement RNs can easily make upwards of $100 per hour. Strike contracts aren’t just for RNs, either. LPNs/LVNs can make upwards of $80 per hour and CNAs over $50 per hour.
The math is simple: when healthcare workers walk off the job, someone has to pinch hit; but that comes with an increased cost. Hospital administrators will need to be mindful of the potential of such strikes and will need to have a gameplan for mitigating such actions.
With best wishes,
Senior Vice President—BPO