Several thousand Kaiser health care workers have authorized a possible strike

Several thousand workers at Kaiser Permanente have voted to authorize a strike if no deal is reached with their union by the end of September, union officials announced Thursday.

SEIU United Healthcare Workers West said about 60,000 workers in California have authorized a possible strike, which could be the largest strike by healthcare workers in US history. Its members include nursing assistants, housekeepers, phlebotomists and medical assistants.

Unions representing additional Kaiser workers in Colorado, Oregon and Washington also announced the same decision, with some unionized workers at Kaiser facilities still voting until next Wednesday.

No strike will take place before October, when the contract expires for the 85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers whose union has formed a coalition. Their absence will be significant: the Kaiser Permanente union coalition says it represents about 40% of the overall Kaiser Permanente workforce.

Union leaders have complained about understaffing, saying it could lead to alarmingly long wait times for patients, saying management proposals on wages and workforce development will only worsen the staffing crisis and arguing that the health system has not bargained with them in good faith.

Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, said workers “voted overwhelmingly to authorize the strike because we will not simply stand by as Kaiser violates the law and puts patients at risk.”

Kaiser Permanente said in a statement Thursday that it is confident it will soon reach an agreement “that strengthens our position as a place of excellence and ensures that the high-quality care our members expect from us remains affordable and easily accessible.”

It called the vote to authorize a strike “a disappointing move considering our progress at the bargaining table” and claimed the union disputed its proposals, saying it was proposing wage increases and recruiting aggressively to fill positions.

More bargaining sessions are scheduled for next week.

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