The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Kaiser Workers Walk Out Over Pay and Staffing

Oct 30, 2023

About 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. are voting on a tentative agreement reached between Kaiser and the coalition of unions representing the workers.

Kaiser and union leaders announced the agreement on October 13, six days after a three-day walkout of nurses’ aides, lab workers, radiology techs, custodians, cafeteria workers, clerical workers, call center agents, and others. The leaders of the largest union in the coalition, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), advertised the walkout as the "largest health care strike in U.S. history" and as a big fight against Kaiser’s cutbacks. But this was not a fight—it was a strike limited from the beginning to only three days. And union leaders gave Kaiser a 10-day notice, giving Kaiser ample time to prepare for the walkout.

It was all “in the partnership” between these union leaders and Kaiser management. And the proof is the tentative agreement union leaders accepted.

On the question of pay, Kaiser’s offer of a 21% raise over four years is far below the rate of increase in the cost of living—especially in high-cost areas like Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Another central demand of Kaiser workers is adequate staffing, but this agreement completely ignores Kaiser’s policies that lead to short-staffing—such as filling previously full-time positions with part-time, on-call, and temporary workers, whom Kaiser management decides at will how many hours to assign.

It’s nothing new. Kaiser has been short-staffing departments for many years and through many contracts—which is also a key reason behind the huge amounts of profit Kaiser announces year after year. In the first six months of 2023 alone, for example, Kaiser made about 3.3 billion dollars in profit. And Kaiser, whose net worth is estimated at about 60 billion dollars, only wants to squeeze even more profit out of its workforce.

While Kaiser workers are still voting on the tentative agreement, SEIU leaders have been doing more of the same. The SEIU has recently called two other walkouts in the Los Angeles area, this time for five days each, at four L.A. area hospitals owned by Prime Healthcare and at the Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.

Seventy-five thousand workers could certainly be a formidable force to reckon with and the start of a wider fight—especially since this mobilization would coincide with the other strikes going on in Southern California, not only in health care but also in other industries.