DENVER (CN) – More than 3,000 Colorado health care workers employed by Kaiser Permanente voted to strike Wednesday, joining a coalition of 80,000 employees demanding better worker conditions.
“Kaiser workers in Colorado are prepared to do what it takes to get Kaiser back on track as the health care provider that helps patients, employees, and communities thrive,” said Patricia Johnson-Gibson a health care vice president for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 in a statement. “Kaiser has strayed too far from its mission – instead of prioritizing quality patient care and the workers who help provide it, they have shifted their focus to maximizing profits for their executives.”
According to the union, 96% of members voted to strike. About two-thirds of union members voted between Aug. 26 and Sept. 11, following a pro-strike vote from California workers.
SEIU Local 49 in Oregon and Washington state have also voted to strike.
If a deal is not reached, 80,000 health care workers in six states could strike as early as October, including “doctors and nurses, home care and nursing home workers,” according to the union. “We are lab techs, environmental service workers and dietary aides.”
“I support Colorado health care workers who are ready to strike; health care workers deserve to be heard. This is personal. One of my dearest friends is a Kaiser employee, and I’ve heard plenty to know that this strike is warranted,” tweeted Colorado state Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Evergreen.
The Denver City Council also wrote a letter to Kaiser Permanente president Michael Ramseier in support of the union’s demands.
Kaiser Permanente runs 39 hospitals and 701 medical offices nationwide with an annual gross revenue of $85 billion. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions includes 11 chapters of the SEIU as well as the Office and Professional Employees and the Technical and Professional Employees.
“Unfortunately, [union] leadership has decided to use the threat of a strike as a bargaining tactic, designed to divide employees and mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente’s position, even though most of the contracts don’t expire until October,” said Kaiser Permanente vice president John Nelson in a statement.
In August, Kaiser released an offer committing to increase Colorado worker wages 1% in 2019, and 2% each year through 2022.
But the unions say the nonprofit health care corporation will make $11 billion in profits this year and can afford to pay higher wages.
Kaiser workers demand a five-year commitment prohibiting Kaiser from outsourcing or automating their jobs, as well as 3-4% raises and a single-tier employment system regardless of how long they have worked for the company.
“I am proud of our members for taking such a strong stand to bring Kaiser back to its core values of respecting its workforce, high-quality patient care, and re-establishing a world-class partnership,” said Ron Ruggiero, president of SEIU 105, in a statement. “This strike vote shows just how serious and determined our members are and I hope Kaiser will finally listen.”
SEIU encourages workers to display purple on social media in support.