US healthcare workers to end strike on Sat; threaten to resume next month

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TN Ashok

Washington, Oct 6 (IANS) The biggest healthcare workers’ strike by over 75,000 people drawn across various disciplines ends Saturday morning 6 a.m. (Pacific time) with unions agreeing to disagree on the new wage offer by the management of the Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest non-profit health plans across the United States.

The workers will end their strike on Saturday in public interest even as they reject the Kaiser Permanente wage hike of 5 per cent in the first three years of a new contract, and a 4 per cent raise in the final year to all unionised employees.

The coalition of workers agreed to disagree on this new offer and instead demanded a 6.5 per cent increase in the first two years of contract, and a 5.75 per cent increase in the final two years.

The workers’ coalition thus reserved the option of another strike next month if the management do not concede their demands.

The leaders of the union also claimed that wage hikes would attract more workers in the highly-understaffed healthcare sector against what the management was doing, manipulating figures to show a rise in employment by shifting existing workforce to newer roles, media reports said.

The largest healthcare strike in US history is now in its third, and final, day. The temporary work stoppage will end on Saturday morning, concluding a massive labour effort involving more than 75,000 healthcare workers and spanning four states, claimed to be the biggest in US medical history.

Picketers across California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington are represented by a coalition of unions that walked off their jobs last Wednesday. Faced with staffing shortages and increased workloads without adequate compensation, the unions are demanding higher wages and solutions to the acute workers’ shortage crisis.

The staffing crisis was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic last year with hospitals reporting enormously high admissions of patients that left workers feeling overburdened and burnt out.

Nearly 200 workers from Kaiser facilities in Virginia and Washington joined the picket lines for a single day on Wednesday, as well. The striking workers included nursing staff, lab technicians, receptionists, among other medical staff, USA Today reported.

Kaiser Permanente, claimed to be one of the largest non-profit health plans across the US, claimed that the pandemic impacted the entire healthcare industry.

Kaiser claimed it has agreed to do “aggressive work” to hire more staff members and said it has hired 10,086 people in union-represented jobs so far this year. This claim has been disputed by the workers’ unions.

The unions cautioned that a portion of those hires were internal employees who shifted roles. They said more needs to be done to address a staffing shortage that the union has called “unsafe”.

The coalition of unions has also argued that raising employee pay will attract workers, CNN reported.

Kaiser has rejected the unions’ demand to raise minimum pay to $24 per hour for all unionised employees in 2024. A spokesperson for Kaiser said the coalition and management have reached tentative agreements on some other issues involving remote workers and tracking staffing vacancies, media reports said. 

The nurses in the healthcare industry are among the most highly-paid workers across all industries, drawing anything between $24 per hour to $40 per hour depending on seniority and experience, and they are highly-qualified to handle critical care patients , industry sources said. 

Patients have started to feel the pinch of the workers’ strike at the hospitals in the four states.

Although Kaiser Permanente said it has contingency plans to ensure patients receive care during the strike, some have told CNN they’ve felt the impact of the strike.

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