On the Picket Line

Health care workers rally against two-tier contract, for wage hike

By Betsey Stone
September 30, 2019

OAKLAND, Calif. — Thousands of Kaiser Permanente health care workers protested here and in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Denver and Portland, Oregon, on Labor Day. They were rallying to press demands for a pay raise, an end to understaffing and against the company’s attempt to impose a two-tier contract, with less pay and cuts in benefits for new hires.

The contract ran out a year ago for some 80,000 workers, members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“They are trying to divide us and weaken the union,” Roy Ongpin, an emergency room technician at the South San Francisco Medical Center told the Militant at the protest, referring to the two-tier.

“I’m ready to strike if I have to,” said Maria Vega, a housekeeper at the hospital in San Leandro. Vega wants to get a guarantee from the heath care giant that they will not “outsource” jobs such as hers to contractors, a step bosses use to cut wages and benefits.

“Many who do similar jobs make less than Kaiser workers,” she said. “But it’s still hard to live on what they pay us, with prices going up.”

“The people that run Kaiser are in a different world from the rest of us,” said Darnyl Love, who works at the South San Francisco hospital. “They don’t care what we are going through.”

Out of the 80,000 Kaiser workers, 37,000 are members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West.  The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced that some 80,000 Kaiser workers across six states and the District of Columbia will strike Oct. 14.