Falls Church Kaiser Employees Conclude Strike Vote

GATHERED AROUND the voting station right outside the Falls Church Medical Center | Kaiser Permanente’s parking garage are these employees, who cast their ballots moments earlier. (Photo: News-Press)

A nationwide strike of Kaiser Permanente’s staff reached Falls Church and the greater Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area this week.

Workers concluded the week-long voting period today in order to determine whether or not they will choose to go on strike. If sufficient support is established, a seven-day strike will commence on Oct. 14. that would include more than 80,000 Kaiser employees.

Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) organizer Grace Reckers told the News-Press she was confident that the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region would vote to go on strike, similar to previous votes in other states. Reckers noted that 98 percent of California’s, Oregon’s and Washington’s Kaiser workers voted in favor of the strike while Colorado’s workers totaled at 96 percent in support of the strike. She expects the same level of pro-strike votes locally.

The strike is over contracts that expire this year, with the general contracts ending Sept. 24 and pharmaceutical contracts ending Dec. 15, per Reckers.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions’ website, of which OPEIU is a part of, accuses Kaiser of piling up record profits and reserves, though claiming to be a non-profit entity; enriching top executives; raising rates on patients while also underserving low-income patients and destroying good jobs.

Workers are attempting to negotiate a new National Agreement that would restore, according to the union’s website, a true worker-management partnership; ensure safe staffing and compassionate use of technology; build the workforce of the future to deal with major projected shortages of licensed and accredited staff in the coming years and protect middle-class jobs with wages and benefits that can support families.

Jobs affected by the strike, per the union’s website, include optometrists, clinical laboratory scientists, respiratory and x-ray technicians, licensed vocational nurses, certified nursing assistants, surgical technicians, pharmacy technicians, phlebotomists, medical assistants and housekeepers, among many other positions.

In a statement from Kaiser’s Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson, Kaiser and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions had planned to renegotiate the current contract in March 2018. However, according to the statement, a split within the union caused nine of the 12 union members to form the Alliance of Healthcare Unions, which successfully renegotiated a contract with Kaiser. OPEIU and the two remaining unions had been engaged in the contract talks with Kaiser since April of this year prior to the vote to strike spreading nationally.

Both sides have opposing views of the current deal being offered by Kaiser.

“Our current proposal for Coalition represented employees in the Mid-Atlantic States includes increases of 3 percent across the board beginning in 2019 and each year through 2022,” a Kaiser spokesman told the News-Press. “This is achieved through a 2 percent increase in base pay, combined with a 1 percent lump sum payment each year. Pension, health insurance, dental benefits, and the incentive program benefits remain the same.”

Reckers, the union organizer, counters by saying the deal Kaiser is offering cuts wages by 15 percent, cuts pensions for new hires and gives Kaiser the option to outsource clerical jobs to non-union members. Reckers asserts that clerical workers don’t want to go on strike, but after the union’s demands had been shot down at the negotiating table, it was decided as the best course of action.

“We are not in this situation because we do not have an attractive offer on the table; rather it is because of the aggressive approach by the Coalition and [union] leadership demanding that they receive more than everyone else,” Tyson’s statement continued. “[Union] leadership believes that… negative corporate campaigning, pushing ballot measures to harm our organization, and threats of a strike is the best way to get a better offer than what was received in our other most recent contracts, including with our partner the Alliance of Health Care Unions.”

The Kaiser spokesman told the News-Press that contingency plans are in place to ensure the strike doesn’t affect the medical center’s ability to deliver care for its patients.