November 18, 2021

Labor union strikes and sympathy strikes

An update on Nov. 18 and 19 union activity for Kaiser Permanente members in Northern California.

Updated: November 18, 2021, 9 a.m.

We are extremely grateful for all our front-line health care workforce, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring. We recently reached successful agreements with dozens of unions that represent more than 60,000 Kaiser Permanente employees that demonstrate our commitment to providing excellent wages and benefits for all employees while meeting our commitment to delivering high-quality, affordable care for our members and patients. These are market-leading contracts, reached through constructive and reasonable bargaining. 

Bargaining with Local 39 IUOE 

Kaiser Permanente has been bargaining in good faith with Local 39 IUOE, the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents about 600 Kaiser Permanente operating engineers in Northern California, for several months. The union decided to call a strike and have kept employees out for more than 2 months. Our proposals to Local 39 will keep our engineers among the best compensated in their profession, at an average of more than $180,000 in total wages and benefits. We are not proposing any take-aways, and our proposals do not differentiate between current and future employees.

Unfortunately, after many hours bargaining on Tuesday and Wednesday, there is no movement in negotiations with Local 39. The union insists it receive much more — in some cases nearly 2 times more — than other union agreements covering Kaiser Permanente employees.   

We are optimistic that we can resolve the remaining issues with Local 39 at the bargaining table and reach an agreement that continues to reward our employees and supports health care affordability, just as we have with several unions this week. 

Sympathy strikes 

As one of the largest health care union employers in the United States — with nearly 75% of our employees working under collective bargaining agreements — we fully understand solidarity among unions. But given the demands of Local 39, on top of the already market-leading compensation and highest retirement benefit of any represented employees in our organization, we believe that sympathy strikes are not appropriate in this case. We are asking our staff to choose to be there for our patients, and to come to work. 

We question why leaders of other unions are asking their members to walk out on patients on November 18 and 19 in sympathy for Local 39. This will not bring us closer to an agreement, and most importantly, it is unfair to our members and patients to disrupt their care when they most need our employees to be there for them. 

Several unions have submitted sympathy strike notices: SEIU-UHW, the Service Employees International Union; Local 20, the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers; and Local 29, the Office & Professional Employees International Union, on Thursday, November 18, and CNA, the California Nurses Association, on Friday, November 19. Kaiser Permanente is not in bargaining with these unions, and each has a current contract. In fact, we have informed SEIU-UHW, Local 20, and Local 29 union leaders that we believe in accordance with their contracts, these sympathy strikes are not protected by law. 

We are also in bargaining with NUHW, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents our mental health professionals. NUHW has announced a one-day strike for Friday, November 19. 

We have taken steps to ensure that our members and patients will continue to receive high-quality, safe care and service should these strikes occur. 

We have prepared thoroughly to care for our patients in the event of a strike and are working diligently to reduce the impact. 

  • During the strike, care will be provided by physicians and experienced clinical managers and staff, with the support of trained and qualified contingency staff. 
  • Some non-urgent medical appointments or procedures may be affected, and we will reach out to patients to reschedule or convert appointments to phone or video if that is appropriate. We will not postpone any urgent or emergency care, or critical medical appointments. 
  • We encourage members to schedule an appointment should they need lab, optometry, or radiology services this week as some of our locations will be temporarily closed or operating with reduced hours. If a member has an urgent need for services, they should call our 24/7 advice line.  
  • Some outpatient pharmacies will be temporarily closed from November 18 and 19. If a member does not need their refill right away, any closed pharmacies will reopen on Saturday, November 20. Our mail-order pharmacy will remain open during the strike for people ordering refills on and by phone. 
  • In the event an urgent prescription is needed and the outpatient pharmacy is closed, Kaiser Permanente staff will provide members with direction on how to fill their prescription at an open Kaiser Permanente pharmacy or at a retail pharmacy. Hospital pharmacies for inpatient care and critical infusion services will remain in operation.  
  • All our hospitals and emergency departments will continue to be open during a strike and remain safe places to receive care. 

As this is an evolving situation, we will continue to communicate directly with our members and post updates on as they are available. 

We are very sorry for any disruption members may experience as we take steps to ensure that we continue to provide high-quality, safe care during this union strike. 

Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States. 

Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor. Labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to provide more people with access to high-quality care and to make care more affordable. 

It’s unconscionable that union leaders would ask health care workers to walk away from the patients who need them and deliberately disrupt their care.