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Biggest Strike US Has Seen In Years Poised To Hit Kaiser Permanente

<p class="p1">Dozens of health workers rallied&nbsp;outside Kaiser Permanente's Cascade Park campus in Vancouver, Wash., in support of labor negotiations for a new contract Tuesday, July 23, 2019.</p>

Molly Solomon

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Dozens of health workers rallied outside Kaiser Permanente's Cascade Park campus in Vancouver, Wash., in support of labor negotiations for a new contract Tuesday, July 23, 2019.

UPDATE (Tuesday, Sept. 17  at 12:09 p.m. PT) — A union coalition representing 80,000 Kaiser Permanente workers announced Monday they’ll be walking picket lines in four weeks. Union leaders said the Oct. 14 walkout would be the biggest strike in the country since a Teamsters' strike against United Parcel Service in 1997. 

Hours later, top Kaiser executives decried what they called "negative corporate campaigning" and an "aggressive approach." 

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions said it's planning a nationwide action to last seven days over alleged unfair labor practices at the medical nonprofit. The union said the National Labor Relations Board charged Kaiser “with failing to bargain in good faith.” 

Union officials laid out a set of four priorities they're aiming for including "a true worker-management partnership," "safe staffing," a plan to "build the workforce" as well as raise wages and benefits.

The union statement went on to criticize Kaiser practices, such as raising rates for patients, not treating enough patients with low incomes and allowing high executive salaries, including a reported $16 million annual salary for the nonprofit's CEO, Bernard J. Tyson. 

The planned walkout would affect people in jobs ranging from optometrists and X-ray technologists to vocational nurses and housekeepers. In a statement, the union coalition said “picket lines will be set up at Kaiser Permanente hospitals, medical office buildings and other facilities,” from the Northwest to the East Coast.  

Monday evening, Kaiser Permanente released a statement from Tyson, blasting the strike announcement as "an overt effort to gain leverage in bargaining." 

"We are in this situation because of the aggressive approach of SEIU-UHW [Service Employees International Union - United Healthcare Workers] leadership, but our approach remains the same: we are committed to offering a package that’s aligned with all of our other unions that keeps our employees among the best paid in wages and benefits in the industry," Tyson said. 

The planned strike would include more than 6,600 workers in Kaiser locations in Oregon and Washington.

Among the elected officials the union names as supporters of the "unfair labor practices strike" are Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify which jobs the planned walkout would affect.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.