About 400 healthcare workers in the D.C. area are on strike Wednesday morning after health care provider Kaiser Permanente and a coalition of unions, representing more than 75,000 of its workers, failed to reach a new contract deal Tuesday night.
The unions issued a strike notice for 6 a.m. Wednesday and workers began picketing around 7 a.m. at offices across the D.C. region.
WTOP reporter Neal Augenstein was at the Kaiser Permanente’s Springfield Medical Offices in Virginia, where he said a few dozen employees were chanting “no contract, no peace” and holding up signs.
David Hawa, a pharmacist that works in Springfield, said it’s an “unfortunate day” at the office.
“Unfortunately, we are working under no contract,” Hawa said. “Kaiser executives continue to bargain, you know, not in good faith… this is an unfair labor practice.”
He also said that the office has been short-staffed since COVID-19, which has led to a multitude of issues.
“We are living in a different world since COVID,” Hawa said. “Leaving things as is is not the solution to the problem. Staffing models needs to improve, so we can see it’s safe to deliver healthcare.”
Another pharmacist and union leader, Nahid Bokaee, said that Kaiser’s yearly pay raises do not reflect the rate of inflation, which is leading to hiring issues that are stressing staff and hurting patients overall.
Bokaee described how she used to “go talk to the doctor in urgent care, get the medication for the patient” herself, giving personal support to each patient when she had two or three pharmacists working with her.
“But because now we’ve been working all by ourselves, there is no opportunity to help these members,” she said. “So it really has a huge impact on our patients and we’re really concerned.”
Employees just started picketing on the sidewalk in front of Kaiser Permanente at Springfield Medical Offices. pic.twitter.com/Jhq71SVVJW
— Neal Augenstein (@AugensteinWTOP) October 4, 2023
The coalition’s contract expired when the clock struck midnight Sunday. In D.C. and Virginia, according to Kaiser, the contract that expired does not cover all its health care professionals — specifically, optometrists and pharmacists will be the ones affected and participating in the work stoppage.
The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions approved a strike for three days in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and for one day in Virginia and D.C.
In a statement to WTOP Wednesday morning, the health care provider said it remains committed to reaching a new agreement with the unions.
“Both Kaiser Permanente management and Coalition union representatives are still at the bargaining table, having worked through the night in an effort to reach an agreement,” the statement said. “There has been a lot of progress, with agreements reached on several specific proposals late Tuesday.”
Nationwide Kaiser unions are calling for better wages, retirement benefits and protections from jobs being subcontracted and outsourced.
In a statement Saturday hours before the contract expired, union members said they can see a “path to resolution” with Kaiser Permanente on certain matters, including an increase in shift differentials, a new remote work agreement and investments in training.