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Kaiser Permanente responds after Colorado union votes to authorize potential strike

Healthcare giant says it continues to negotiate in good faith, remains confident new deal will be reached by September 30
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Posted at 2:31 PM, Sep 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-04 16:31:50-04

DENVER — A union representing 3,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in Colorado voted to authorize a strike if a new labor agreement can’t be reached with the healthcare giant by the end of the month, which is when the current contract expires.

On Friday, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 voted in favor of a strike authorization should it become necessary.

"We've got an overwhelming 99% approval for a possible strike,” said Eric Coleman, a Kaiser Permanente customer service representative and steward with SEIU Local 105. “What we're doing is we want to provide better care to our patients, so that's what we're fighting for."

Coleman said the union doesn’t want to strike. But he said healthcare workers in Colorado and other parts of the country have been stretched thin, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They're stretched to their limit trying to do the work,” said Coleman, who said some employees like LPNs are doing the work of multiple people due to staffing shortages. “We're looking for livable wages that will attract additional staff so they can help out.”

He says the current wages and staffing levels not only hurt workers but patients.

“Our patients have long wait times, whether they're going to the pharmacy, where they're trying to schedule an appointment, mammograms, colonoscopies, you're going to wait a long time,” Coleman said. “What we have to do, somebody has to say enough is enough and put their foot down and make a change."

In a lengthy statement to Denver7, Kaiser Permanente pushed back on accusations from a coalition of unions representing healthcare workers, which accused the company of unfair labor practices.

Kaiser Permanente said it pays its workers above local market rates (up to 10% above in some cases).

“This year, the unions’ leadership is seeking a single national wage increase, the same increase for everyone. However, this would not reflect market labor costs and would prevent us from addressing fair market wages,” the statement read. “Market wages are currently at different levels all over the country, so we need to tailor wage increases so everybody benefits fairly. In markets where our jobs have wages that are at or even below competitors in the market, it goes against our compensation philosophy and hurts our ability to attract and retain the best people. ”

Kaiser Permanente also said it hired 29,000 new employees last year and is on track to surpass that this year. It says it continues to negotiate in good faith and is “confident” a new agreement will be reached before September 30.

“A strike authorization vote does not reflect any breakdown in bargaining, nor does it indicate a strike is imminent or will happen at all. It is a disappointing action considering our progress at the bargaining table. Unfortunately, this year, throughout our negotiations we have seen Coalition leaders attempt to rally their unions’ members to threaten a strike despite important progress made through negotiations,” the statement said.

SEIU says strike authorization votes will continue for the next couple of weeks across the country.

The union says if a nationwide strike happens, it will be the largest in U.S. history.