Megan Hayes | News Editor
Healthcare workers outside one of Kaiser Permanente's facilities. Los Angeles, CA / Zaydee Sanchez, Wall Street Journal, 2023
Kaiser Permanente (KP) is a largely known nonprofit healthcare company based in both the east and west coasts of the United States - with many of its facilities occupying Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia. Although this name may be unfamiliar to us here in Connecticut, Kaiser is quickly gaining notoriety by its workers garnering the title of the “largest healthcare strike in the United States”, leaving our last biggest strike from 2018 in the dust.
This past Wednesday, October 4th, upwards of 75,000 healthcare professionals from Kaiser went on strike due to a collective feeling of inadequate staffing of the Kaiser facilities and unfair labor practices (The Century Foundation). A large portion of this comes from the COVID-19 pandemic, which healthcare workers are still paying the toll of in their day to day lives. With the shocking amount of workers that decided to leave healthcare when the pandemic hit back in 2020, the work has unwillingly fallen onto the shoulders of those that have stayed. Instead of compensating these workers, companies like Kaiser have continued to pay workers with low wages, give inhuman workloads to doctors, and not acknowledge change that is being demanded by these workers.
This is also part of a bigger issue relating to both the physical and mental health of healthcare professionals and doctors. The job is already taxing, with many clinicians, doctors and surgeons working upwards of 40 hours a week (sometimes reaching up to 80 hours), and this on top of the workload and low wages creates more stress within not only work, but home too. According to a study from the Columbia University of Public Health, conditions like low wage and financial stress atop long hours can lead to conditions like hypertension, cardiac stress, lower cognitive functioning later in life, and sometimes unemployment. This can sometimes cause or play into mental health conditions worsening. Depression is already prevalent with around 15-30% of medical students and doctors alike, which heightens worries about both patients and doctors alike.
This extends into larger problems throughout many healthcare companies in the United States, not only Kaiser. Elements like unfair wages, unsustainable work practices, long hours, and other issues that come in healthcare are not sparsely distributed and have been a prevalent issue in the media for quite some time. According to Cornell’s labor action tracker, there have already been thirty-two healthcare strikes recorded this year in 2023. Cue in workers unions, which come in to negotiate problems between workers and management of companies. Unions often try to guarantee elements like health care, fair hours and schedules, security, stability within work schedules and, as well as pay to sustain housing and life. This removes the element of retaliation from the company (also why so many workplaces have anti-retaliation laws and protections put into place), and protects the workers from the chance of losing their job over advocating for fair labor conditions (Department of Labor).
The demands of the workers in the current strike against Kaiser are pushing for the company to hire more employees to take the immense amounts of stress off of the current providers. This number of employees looking to be hired is estimated to be at around 10,000. Additionally, the union and workers are arguing for a fix to Kaiser's “inefficient” hiring process, which is allowing for the facilities to be continuously understaffed. Kaiser’s current management is said to push “profits over workers and patients”, which is also a topic for debate within this strike. The union which is handling the changes wanted by the workers is the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), and now with the strike entering its third day, tensions are growing as the thirty-nine Kaiser Permanente hospitals across the United States are remaining understaffed. Let us offer support to the ones that heal us, in hopes that we can move forward together in providing fair and sustainable work practices for all.
75,000 Kaiser union workers walk off job on 1st day of strike over staffing issues, wages. (2023, October 5). ABC7 Los Angeles. https://abc7.com/kaiser-permanente-strike-health-care-workers-labor-unions-employees/13862244/
Andrew, L. B., MD JD. (n.d.). Physician Suicide: Overview, Depression in Physicians, Problems with Treating Physician Depression. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/806779-overview?form=fpf
Isaiah. (2023). The largest health care strike in U.S. history is underway. The Century Foundation. https://tcf.org/content/commentary/the-largest-health-care-strike-in-u-s-history-is-underway/#:~:text=Senior%20Policy%20Associate-,The%20largest%20health%20care%20strike%20in%20U.S.%20history%20is%20underway,%2C%20Virginia%2C%20and%20Washington%2C%20D.C.
Leo, L., & Satija, B. (2023, October 5). Explainer: Why are Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers on strike? Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/why-are-kaiser-permanente-healthcare-workers-strike-2023-10-05/
Persistent low wages linked to faster memory decline in later life. (2023, July 6). Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/news/persistent-low-wages-linked-faster-memory-decline-later-life#:~:text=While%20low%2Dwage%20jobs%20have,and%20later%2Dlife%20cognitive%20functioning.
What unions do | AFL-CIO. (n.d.-a). https://aflcio.org/what-unions-do#:~:text=Union%20members%20work%20together%20to,security%2C%20and%20a%20stable%20schedule.&text=Better%20workplaces%20and%20working%20conditions%20without%20the%20fear%20of%20retaliation.
What unions do | AFL-CIO. (n.d.-b). https://aflcio.org/what-unions-do#:~:text=Union%20members%20work%20together%20to,security%2C%20and%20a%20stable%20schedule.&text=Better%20workplaces%20and%20working%20conditions%20without%20the%20fear%20of%20retaliation.
Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge Center. (2023, August 30). Home - Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge Center.https://www.workcenter.gov/#:~:text=Unions%20promote%20transparency%20and%20help,other%20employment%20terms%20and%20conditions.