Thousands of Labor Union Members Go on Sympathy Strike to Support Kaiser Engineers

By Cynthia Cai
Cynthia Cai
Cynthia Cai
Reporter
November 20, 2021 Updated: November 21, 2021

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Thousands of people at 22 locations throughout northern California participated in 24-hour sympathy strikes on Nov. 18 and 19 to support Kaiser Permanente hospital engineers.

For over two months, Kaiser Permanente’s engineers have gone on strike to demand better working conditions and fair working contracts.

The Epoch Times spoke with some labor union representatives at the picket line in front of a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Santa Clara, California, on Nov. 18.

Epoch Times Photo
People protest outside Kaiser Permanente as part of a labor strike to support Kaiser hospital engineers in Santa Clara, Calif., on Nov. 18, 2021. (Cynthia Cai/The Epoch Times)

Labor unions said Kaiser had a history of staffing shortages even prior to the pandemic. In August 2021, healthcare professionals held protests in front of Kaiser hospitals to oppose vaccine mandates.

During those protests, nurses mentioned staffing shortages, as healthcare workers were leaving as a result of mandates.

“People continued working, putting in those long hours, but they were mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. And they just didn’t get the empathy that we give to our patients, that we show to our patients. They just weren’t getting that from our employer, Kaiser. And so I think that was really the tipping point,” Heather Wright, family planning clerk at Kaiser Permanente, told NTD Television.

Wright said the pandemic exacerbated existing staffing shortages.

“Every question to ask about staffing, it’s not in the budget. With our Local 39 engineers, it’s not in the budget. Well, how can it not be in the budget when you are a billion-dollar corporation?” she said.

Kaiser told The Epoch Times in an email statement: “Kaiser Permanente has been bargaining in good faith with Local 39 IUOE, the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents about 600 Kaiser Permanente operating engineers in Northern California, for several months. The union decided to call a strike and have kept employees out for more than 2 months.”

Their complete online statement can be found here.

In a second statement, Kaiser added: “Kaiser Permanente and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), which represents nearly 2,000 of our mental health professionals in Northern California, began bargaining in late July. While the union is issuing press statements about staffing, the real issue at the table is how much therapists are paid.”

Over 20 unions reached a tentative deal with Kaiser on Nov. 13, averting a planned strike of about 50,000 West Coast employees, including vocational nurses, pharmacy workers, and housekeepers.

However, the healthcare giant has not yet reached an agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers, Stationary Engineers Local 39, which represents Kaiser engineers. The labor union said Kaiser’s current wage offer is not enough for families living in Silicon Valley.

Epoch Times Photo
People on a labor strike outside Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif., on Nov. 18, 2021. (Cynthia Cai/The Epoch Times)

“We want a fair agreement. Kaiser has offered to give more money to their death benefits than for them while they are living. They need benefits now. They need a good contract while they’re living,” Dora Alvarez, medical assistant at Kaiser Permanente, told NTD Television.

In its statements, Kaiser responded to the issue of wages: “Our proposals to Local 39 will keep our engineers among the best compensated in their profession, at an average of more than $180,000 in total wages and benefits. We are not proposing any take-aways, and our proposals do not differentiate between current and future employees.”

Julie Persons, nursing administrator at Kaiser Permanente, told NTD Television: “Those machines that our fellow family members need when they come in—these ventilators, these pumps—[the engineers are] keeping these machines going, the equipment going. They’re the ones making sure the facility is where it needs to be, whether it’s the electronics, or whether it’s the temperature, or whatever. They’re keeping the hospital running.”

She added that the labor union scheduled a seven-hour bargaining session on Nov. 17, but the meeting with Kaiser only lasted 20 minutes.

Kaiser said that strikes are not new.

“This strike is a bargaining tactic this union has used every time it is bargaining for a new contract with Kaiser Permanente, over the past 11 years of its existence. We are still bargaining and are committed to resolving the issues and reaching an agreement,” the healthcare giant stated.

On Nov. 19, a labor union spokesperson told The Epoch Times over the phone that nurses were out on the picket line only for a few hours in the morning outside their normal shift. He also explained that because the engineers’ labor contracts are over and a new one has not yet been signed, the engineers can participate in these union-organized strikes without supervisor approval.

The labor union representing the engineers said they will continue to strike until an agreement is reached.

Kaiser Permanente stated that they are grateful for their frontline workers and optimistic about reaching an agreement with all the labor unions.

Cynthia Cai
Reporter