AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Hundreds of Kaiser Permanente health care workers showed up outside the Waterpark Facility on Saturday hoping to get the company’s attention about understaffing and wages.
“We want to give great patient care but we deserve fair wages,” Patricia Johnson Gibson, vice president of the health care division at Service Employees International Union Local 105, said.
The unionized workers said they joined thousands of other Kaiser Permanente workers nationwide who are also protesting. According to a press release sent by the health care workers, they formed the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.
According to the release in April, the coalition began its national bargaining process, the third-largest set of union negotiations this year in the United States. The health care workers said their contract expires Sept. 30.
“As much as I would love to go the route of the fair contract, it’s looking like we are going to have to strike,” Gina Ross, a referral processor for Kaiser Permanente at the picket Saturday, said.
The workers said they are looking for better staffing so it helps with patients. They said they are also asking for higher and livable wages.
“I’ve heard of employees living in their cars some are living in single-family homes with multiple families,” Ross said.
Kaiser Permanente statement
Representatives with Kaiser Permanente said in a statement Saturday that they respect the coalition’s right to lawful demonstration and included this response:
“It’s important for our members and patients to know that these events are not strikes. Our medical facilities are open and operating normally.
Kaiser Permanente is the largest union-represented health care employer in the U.S. — with nearly 75% of our employees represented by unions. We are currently bargaining with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents about 88,000 employees in a variety of roles and is part of our historic Labor Management Partnership.
Our priority is to reach an agreement that ensures we can continue to provide market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits. We are confident we’ll be able to reach an agreement 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.
Given where we are in the bargaining process, it’s clear the picketing by the Coalition isn’t about drawing attention to new issues, but rather an attempt to create bargaining leverage.
We have been and will continue to address the real issues that are affecting health care and our employees. On the heels of the global pandemic and given today’s economy, these challenges include inflation and rising costs to deliver health care, increasing competition from nontraditional businesses, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and increases in the demand for access to health care. We look to the Coalition to be a constructive partner in helping address these and other challenges affecting us all.
The staffing challenges mentioned by the Coalition have been happening all across health care but are actually less true at Kaiser Permanente now than elsewhere.
It’s worth remembering that during the pandemic, we took extraordinary steps to support and protect our workforce. This included providing $800 million in employee assistance to ensure that front-line employees had access to alternate housing options, special child care grants, and additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure.
o The average employee turnover rate across health care is 21.4% (Source: PwC Saratoga 2022 Survey). While it crept up a bit during the height of the pandemic, we are thankful that our current rate of 8.5% as of June 2023 is significantly lower than the rest of health care.
o At the beginning of bargaining in April, Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition agreed to a joint goal of hiring 10,000 new people for Coalition-represented jobs in 2023. We are making great progress toward achieving that goal.
o Talented people want to work at Kaiser Permanente, which is why 96% of candidates accept our employment offers, which is 5.3% above the U.S. health care industry average (Source: PwC Saratoga 2022 Survey).
Our staffing approach reflects our shared commitment to ensure every Kaiser Permanente patient receives extraordinary care, every time and in every place.
Wages and benefits
We are one of the leaders in employee wages and benefits in every market we’re in. We offer employees market-competitive pay and outstanding benefits, opportunities to learn new skills and grow their careers, and we’re committed to providing a safe and equitable work environment. We also want to ensure that we help our employees build long-term economic security with low-cost health insurance, industry-leading retirement plans, and other benefit programs to support their health and well-being.
We have discussed with the Coalition that in some regions Kaiser Permanente is paying Coalition-represented employees up to 28% above the market average wage rates — impacting our overall costs and ability to attract new members. In other regions, we are paying at or slightly above the market average, which hurts our ability to attract new employees and retain the excellent employees we already have.
We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with our union partners in bargaining. We will reach a great agreement. To get there, we all need to be responsible stewards of our members’ and customers’ needs and resources and be mindful of the rising costs of health care and our collective role in addressing it.Andrew Sorensen, senior manager, media relations/PR with Kaiser Permanente
Union explains its stance
“We are taking a stand. Give us what we deserver,” Johnson Gibson said. “It’s corporate greed and Kaiser Permanente is a multi-billion dollar industry.”
Representatives with Kaiser Permanente also included in a follow-up press release that in bargaining sessions with the coalition, both parties have set a joint goal of hiring 10,000 new people for coalition-represented jobs in 2023. The press release continued to state that to date, Kaiser Permanente’s efforts have resulted in more than 6,500 positions filled, and the organization is aggressively recruiting to fill the remainder.
“Everyone is motivated, everyone is angry and passionate about their patients,” Ross said Saturday.
Ross said the coalition will go back to bargaining on Tuesday.
“We are here for our patients, right now we have the longest wait times because we are so understaffed,” Ross said.