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Union members walk out of Kaiser Permanente to support engineers on strike for 62 days

on November 18, 2021

More than 40,000 Kaiser employees and members of three local unions walked out at 21 Kaiser hospitals across Northern California on Thursday in support of striking stationary engineers. 

On Friday, the California Nurses Association will follow suit.

“Every single worker in our health care system, including the engineers who are on strike, deserve to have fair working conditions and a union contract,” said Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who came to show solidarity with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39. 

Outside of the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, hundreds of union-backed health care workers sang, danced, and chanted as they held the line with Local 39.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29, and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 20 picketed in unity with stationary engineers who are on day 62 of their strike. The engineers maintain all machinery including electrical, plumbing, refrigeration, heating and air-conditioning systems at the medical centers.

The walk-out comes after the Pharmacists Guild and the Alliance of Health Care Unions averted strikes and reached tentative agreements with the hospital.

Kaiser Permanente strike
Tamika Harris, with Service Employees International Union, pickets in solidarity with striking stationary engineers at Kaiser Permanente on Nov. 18, 2021. (Lola Proctor)

“Kaiser is being a corporate bully,” said Kaiser radiographer and SEIU-UHW member Tamika Harris. “The money that’s being spent while we’re outside is the money that they could have invested into offering them a fair contract.” 

Local 39 has been on strike since its contract ended on Sept. 18. The union authorized a strike to negotiate a three-year incremental wage increase that would put them 50 cents an hour below the standard. The union says their members’ wages are currently $3 an hour below the industry standard, compared to facilities like John Muir Health, Sutter Health, and MarinHealth. 

The two groups have yet to come to an agreement after bargaining on Tuesday and Wednesday. Local 39 members said they met briefly with representatives from Kaiser Permanente for only 20 minutes yesterday after waiting seven hours for an offer. Last night, Kaiser called for a vote on the offer, but Local 39 refused because it was not Kaiser’s “last and best final offer,” said Local 39 member Mark Sutherland.

In an emailed statement, Kaiser said that it is negotiating in good faith. “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 takeaways and our proposals do not differentiate between current and future employees.”

Kaiser added that the union is asking, “in some cases nearly 2 times more — than other union agreements covering Kaiser Permanente employees.” 

Local 39 member Andrew Leach disputed that claim, saying the engineers are asking for 1% or 2% more than other unions.

Stationary engineer Mark Sutherland added that Kaiser has offered less than what it offered both the Pharmacists Guild and the AHCU, an umbrella group of 21 unions that represent about 52,000 workers.

Kaiser is optimistic it can reach an agreement with Local 39 that “continues to reward our employees and supports health care affordability, just as we have with several unions this week.”

Sutherland, on the other hand, has a more cynical view.

“I truly believe they’re just trying to tear the union apart,” Sutherland said. “I believe that they’re really trying to make an example of Local 39 to send a message to the other unions that if you stand up to the 800-pound gorilla, we’ll tear you limb from limb.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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