FONTANA, Calif., Sept. 17, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Members of United Steelworkers Local 7600, which represents 7,400 workers across 72 Kaiser Permanente locations in Southern California, today announced that they would pause participation in their longstanding labor-management partnership. This comes after the health care giant repeatedly signaled that it is not taking the partnership seriously, jeopardizing the system's ability to keep workers and patients safe.
"We remain committed to working with management to improve working conditions and ensure that every patient that enters our doors has access to top quality care," said USW Local 7600 President Michael Barnett. "But we can only do this if management makes an equal effort."
In recent months, top management rejected a joint recommendation on racial justice, refused to engage on concerns about safe staffing and leaned on the local to fill many holes in the schedule as workers grapple with the ongoing pandemic. On top of this, management proposed slashing wages for new hires, making it harder to recruit new workers even though staffing is already stretched thin.
"We need a true partner," said Barnett, "but it's become clear that management is more concerned with preserving its already ample bottom line than working collaboratively with us."
While workers risked their lives during the pandemic, Kaiser Permanente management also went behind their backs and hired a consultant to study health system operations without the partnership's consent or input. Worse, the consultant's wildly inaccurate findings now influence many of the conglomerate's bargaining positions.
More than 52,000 union members in the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which is composed of 21 local unions including USW Local 7600, have been bargaining nationally since April 2021.
USW Local 7600, which represents workers in more than 200 different job classes, including licensed vocational nurses, appointment clerks, housekeeping attendants, medical assistants, customer service representatives, pharmacy assistants, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians, membership service representatives, and dietary aides, began bargaining over local issues in May.
Both the local and national agreements expire Sept. 30, 2021. The local said today that USW leaders and members are prepared to move forward with a membership vote to authorize a strike if needed.
In its most recent proposal, Kaiser Permanente management laid out a two-tiered system that would pay new hires as much as 39 percent less than current employees for the same work. If implemented as written, the proposal would also pay some workers less than minimum wage.
"We're all making sacrifices during the pandemic, working long hours under grueling conditions because we care about our patients, but management is not approaching this situation in the same way," said Barnett. "It's past time for management to return to the purpose of the original partnership and once again prioritize the health and wellbeing of our community."
The USW represents 850,000 workers employed in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in health care, public sector, higher education, tech and service occupations.