Health & Medicine

Unions plan to block downtown Sacramento street in Labor Day protest targeting Kaiser

Workers in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced they are planning to block a downtown Sacramento intersection in a Labor Day protest that comes amid tense contract negotiations between the health care giant and 80,000 of its organized employees.

The coalition provided The Bee with a statement scheduled to be issued Sunday, stating that its members would assemble at 10 a.m. Monday at the state Capitol, 1300 L St., before marching to Kaiser Permanente’s Downtown Commons Medical Offices, 501 J St., where they will engage in an act of civil disobedience. The local protest is one of a handful of demonstrations scheduled around the nation.

Jeff Taylor, a medical assistant at Kaiser’s downtown Sacramento facility, said he will be at Monday’s labor rally to send a message to his employer that patient care should come before profits and executive pay. Kaiser, a nonprofit health system, has amassed more than $37 billion in reserves, Taylor said, and pays dozens of executives more than $1 million annually, including Chief Executive Officer Bernard Tyson and his $16 million salary.

“Kaiser has $37 billion in the bank, and they’re really not seeing as many Medicaid patients as other nonprofit organizations out there, and that needs to change,” said Taylor, a 39-year-old father of three.

Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser’s senior vice president for human resources, said management and labor may have occasional disagreements, “but we always work through these challenges to align on common goals that are in the best interest of our members, patients, employees and the communities we serve.”

Coalition-represented workers are voting now on whether to launch an October strike at Kaiser facilities in in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. California members of the coalition approved the strike a little more than two weeks ago.

In statements from the coalition, union leaders said they have asked Kaiser:

  • To put training programs and hiring procedures in place to expand the workforce to ensure the company is prepared to meet the demand of increasingly grayer patient population.
  • To look at technological advancements as a chance to augment the compassionate care that humans can deliver rather than as a chance to replace workers. Union spokesperson Elena Perez pointed to how Kaiser used a “robot” to let a patient know his death was impending. “We all know that the health care future is changing, that we all have to adapt to technology that makes it easier to give people the care that they need,” Perez said, “but what we need to do as part of that process is ensure that we are putting patients first and care for patients first and compassionate care for patients first.”
  • To protect middle-class wages and benefits that support families rather than enriching corporate leaders and hoarding cash.

Peasnall said that Kaiser offers competitive salaries and wages while also making health care more accessible and affordable for patients. She described union and other front-line workers as integral to the processes of identifying and solving problems; improving service, quality and operations; and figuring out how greater efficiency can save members money.

“Kaiser Permanente has a long and productive history with organized labor,” she said. “Today, we are proud to employ more than 160,000 union-represented employees — more than any other health care organization in the country. Kaiser Permanente has contracts with 60 unions, and we remain committed to working together for those who rely on us to provide high-quality, affordable health care — and to keep our organization a great place to work.”

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.