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Kaiser Permanente Workers Give Update from Picket Line in Largest Healthcare Strike in History

StoryOctober 06, 2023
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In the largest strike of healthcare workers in U.S. history, 75,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers across the country walked off the job this week, seeking higher pay, better staffing, improvements in their pension plans and other benefits. We go to the picket line in Clackamas, Oregon, to speak with Meg Niemi, president of SEIU Local 49, and Keven Dardon, a patient access representative and a member of the union local’s bargaining team, on the final day of the strike outside of Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center. “Kaiser can do better,” says Dardon, explaining how the union’s demands for better working conditions will allow its employees to provide patients with better care. Adds Niemi, “If we cannot reach an agreement, we’ll be out here again.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show with one of the 75,000 healthcare workers with Kaiser Permanente who walked off the job this week in the largest strike of healthcare workers in U.S. history, in California, in Oregon, in Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Talks have failed to yield a new agreement as workers seek higher pay, better staffing, improvements in their pension plans and other benefits.

For more, we’re joined on the picket line in Clackamas, Oregon, by Keven Dardon, a patient access representative and a member of the union’s local bargaining team at Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center. And, Meg Niemi, we’re going to begin with you, president of SEIU Local 49. Meg, can you talk about the significance of this three-day strike, and if you’ve gotten concessions from Kaiser Permanente?

MEG NIEMI: Yeah. I mean, this is a historic strike, 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walking off the job to tell Kaiser executives that it’s time to end the short-staffing crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us where you are right now as we look at you in the dark because it’s so early in the morning?

MEG NIEMI: I’m out front of Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center here in Clackamas, Oregon. Our members are setting up their strike line this morning, getting ready to begin our picketing activities.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to bring Keven Dardon into the conversation, a patient access representative, member of the union’s local bargaining team at Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center. Keven, can you talk about your demands and the significance of this largest strike of healthcare workers in U.S. history?

KEVEN DARDON: Yes. Good morning. What we’re here today is we’re asking our Kaiser executives to bargain in good faith with us, the frontline healthcare workers. We have the proposals, and we have the solutions to solving Kaiser’s short-staffing crisis. And we’re just asking them to come to us and meet with us. We have those solutions, and we’re hoping they can come and bargain in good faith.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk, Meg Niemi, about the strategy of doing this three-day strike?

MEG NIEMI: Yeah. The Kaiser members are out here taking action to get Kaiser to listen to us around patient care, make sure that the patients are getting the care that they actually need. And our members made a decision to say, you know, we are going to walk off the job. We want to do this for a short amount of days, for three days, but we have let Kaiser executives know that if we cannot come to an agreement that solves the short-staffing crisis, that we’ll be out here again.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the scale of the strike, who’s involved, talking about nurses, medical technicians, pharmacists? Talk about who’s out on the strike, and also your concern about continuing to care for patients.

MEG NIEMI: Right now out on the strike across the country are healthcare workers that have been essential workers from across the hospitals and clinics. So, we have medical assistants, licensed practical nurses, housekeepers. There are pharmacists. There are dietary workers. There are dental workers. There are literally hundreds and thousands of different workers who are often the people that are closest to delivering patient care. They’re the first people that you see. They’re the people that are right next to you at the bedside. And all of them have come out here because they care so much about their patients. And they’re really concerned about how they’ve seen a deterioration of care, a deterioration of patients being able to get access to care, and they felt like it was very important that they took this strong stand, so that Kaiser Permanente executives will actually turn course and reprioritize patient care.

AMY GOODMAN: Kaiser Permanente is the largest nonprofit healthcare organization in the United States. Just how big is it, Meg Niemi?

MEG NIEMI: So, Kaiser Permanente is a giant healthcare institution. We know that they made over $3 billion in profits already this year. They have $114 billion invested in the stock market. They have a lot of resources. For employees that are represented by our coalition of unions, there are 85,000 Kaiser Permanente employees that are represented in this coalition. There are 75,000 of those workers who had contracts expired and were able to take this action.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Keven Dardon, can you tell us the response of people in Oregon around you, in Clackamas, the public officials, and what this three-day strike has meant?

KEVEN DARDON: Yeah. So, over the past two days that we’ve been out here, we’ve had state representatives come out and join us here on the picket line. We’ve had providers, nurses, community members, Kaiser patients come to us. And, you know, they’re driving on this boulevard behind me. They’re honking their horns. They’re giving us hearts. They’re giving us the thumbs up. The community knows the struggle that Kaiser is going with its staffing issues. They know that they can do better. And they’re giving us their full support. So, we’re proudly out here. We’re here for our patients. We’re here for our community. Kaiser can do better.

AMY GOODMAN: And patient support, the level of patient support, Keven, as you demand more staff so that more patients can be dealt with and wait on shorter lines?

KEVEN DARDON: Yes, that’s correct. You know, we saw here in the Northwest our urgent care and pharmacy hours slashed. They used to be open 'til 9:00, now they're open 'til 7:00. And so our members are feeling that. When members call our appointment centers and they tell them to see their primary care provider, it's four to eight weeks out. You know, that’s a serious issue for them. They need care. We’re known for our five-star quality care, and that’s what our community is demanding, is Kaiser go back to its roots and provide that excellent service that they’re known for.

AMY GOODMAN: Keven Dardon, I want to thank you for being with us, patient access representative, member —

KEVEN DARDON: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: — of the union’s local bargaining team at Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas, Oregon, and Meg Niemi, president of SEIU Local 49. They were both joining us from the picket line. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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