PORTLAND, Ore. — Kaiser Permanente workers in Oregon voted on Sunday to authorize a strike over issues including adequate staffing and higher pay. The authorization means elected union members can call for a strike at any time.
About 96% of the nearly 3,400 nurses and health professionals who voted said they support a strike, according to a news release from the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), which is the union that represents Kaiser workers.
“Our members turned out in record numbers to say that they are willing to do what it takes to save patient care in Oregon,” said Jodi Barschow, who is a nurse at Kaiser Sunnyside and the president of OFNHP. “Kaiser’s proposals would be a disaster for Oregon’s entire care system and show a profound disrespect for the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives during COVID.”
OFNHP said staffing issues has reached "crisis levels" and new employees are being offered a lower wage than colleagues who have been at Kaiser Permanente for longer. Workers filled out a survey asking how they are responding to the crisis. Of those surveyed, more than 60% said they are considering leaving Kaiser Permanente and about 42% said they are thinking about exiting the health care field entirely.
The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) said in a statement released Monday morning that they support the vote by Kaiser members to strike.
"Again, Oregonians must listen to the concerns of nurses and other healthcare workers who have been saying for years that staffing must be a priority or we will see a worsening of already crisis-level problems across the state," the statement says. "OFNHP and ONA are in 100% agreement: health care systems like Kaiser must do more to address safe staffing. This is a crisis they caused and Kaiser's failure to reach an agreement is putting even more pressure on an already overstressed nursing workforce."
If union members call for a strike, Kaiser Permanente would get a 10-day advance notification. Workers would walk off the job after the 10-day notification expires. Oregon and the U.S. are already dealing with a nursing shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.
The strike authorization comes after hundreds of workers protested outside the Kaiser building in Northeast Portland on Sept. 28. OFNHP said Kaiser Permanente rejected a 30-day contract extension on Sept. 30.
Kaiser Permanente recently put more than 2,200 employees nationwide on unpaid leave who have chosen not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus — a little more than 1% of its workforce. The employees have until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated to be able to return to work and those who choose not to will be terminated, the company said. Kaiser said its overall vaccination rate stands at 92%.