A union of 24,000 Kaiser permanent nurses and other workers, who they say are unwise and facing a revised pay system that would lead to further shortages, announced that their bargaining team would come back next month if needed. Will vote to authorize the strike.
Southern California nurses, pharmacists, rehab therapists, social workers, physician assistants, speech therapists, midwives and optometrists are represented by the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) and currently with Health Care Providers are in labor negotiations.
Members’ votes will be taken on October 1-10. Union officials say their 24-year partnership with Kaiser is “on life support,” a condition that could affect patient care.
Current negotiations for a national contract between Kaiser and UNAC/UHCP, along with twenty other unions in the Alliance of Health Care Unions, cover more than 50,000 workers in hundreds of job classifications in nearly every geographic area that Kaiser serves.
“We can no longer sit back and tell employers to end the partnership that has been in place since 1997,” union president Denise Duncan, a nurse and chief negotiator on the union’s bargaining team, said in a statement.
The union said Kaiser has proposed a 1% increase to nurses and others with significantly lower wages for new employees.
“They’re proposing a two-tier pay scale, which means new nurses won’t earn nearly as much,” said Belinda Redding, a registered nurse at Kaiser’s Woodland Hills facility. “Can you imagine doing the same job as someone else in your department but making significantly less money?”
Redding said this would lower morale and add to the shortage of Kaiser’s already old staff. That said, new nurses would not stay for long, and others would be barred from applying for nursing jobs with Kaiser because of low pay.
Kaiser nurses currently average $40 an hour and up, she said.
In a statement released on Monday, Kaiser said the union had misrepresented the issue.
“Our employees represented by Alliance unions earn approximately 26% above the average market wage, and in some places it is 38% above market levels,” the healthcare company said. “On August 25, we introduced a proposal that includes a pay hike for all existing employees and no changes to the current retirement plan. It also does not guarantee a cut in the salaries of existing employees.”
Kaiser said it is proposing a “market-based compensation structure” for workers hired in 2023 and beyond, which would allow them to be paid higher than average market wages. This will allow Caesars to continue to attract and retain top talent, the statement said.
Union officials say overworked nurses already face record levels of exhaustion, depression, PTSD and burnout.
Hospitals and nursing homes across the country are facing a growing shortage of staff as the state deadline approaches for healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Ultimatums go into effect this week in states such as California, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut, raising fears that some workers will quit or find themselves fired or suspended instead of getting the vaccine.
Kaiser said it has provided nearly $600 million in employee support to ensure frontline workers receive alternative housing, special childcare grants and additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and risk.