PASADENA, Calif. — Chanting, “From the desert to the Bay, equal work for equal pay,” over 1,000 nurses and other health care workers marched and rallied against cutbacks demanded by Kaiser hospital bosses at facilities in Hawaii, Oregon and Southern California.
The workers are fighting Kaiser’s demand for a permanent two-tier wage system that would mean lower pay for all workers hired after Jan. 1, 2023. They’re also demanding higher wages to keep up with inflation and for hiring to improve staffing ratios.
The workers are organized in a number of unions that are part of the Alliance of Health Care Unions, representing some 50,000 Kaiser Permanente employees nationwide. Health care workers have record levels of burnout from the COVID pandemic, and face protracted understaffing. The Kaiser Permanente system includes 12 million plan members, 39 hospitals and more than 700 medical office buildings. It has turned a $2.7 billion profit since the pandemic began.
“They are chronically short-staffing,” Jenny Wong Swanson, a registered nurse and union shop steward, told the rally. “Just because we make it through a 12-hour shift with a skeleton crew doesn’t mean it was safe to operate. We are stretched far too thin.”
“Where I park, I had to walk every day past the refrigerated trucks containing the bodies of people who died of COVID,” Brent Jackson, a member of United Steelworkers Local 7600, told the Militant. “Kaiser is storing away so much money rather than putting it into patient care. It should be run as a service to people rather than to make profits.” Kaiser bosses admit they are sitting on a reserve fund of $44.5 billion.