Analysts say the situation has most likely provided union workers with leverage to get more at the table, and many are seizing the opportunity. More than a dozen health worker strikes have taken place this year in New York City, California, Illinois, Michigan and elsewhere.
The settlement, particularly the agreement on a higher minimum wage affecting low-income employees, “will impact health care workers outside of Kaiser,” said John August, who was the executive director for the coalition of Kaiser unions until 2013 and is now a program director at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “It’s a great pressure point for the rest of industry, for sure,” he said.
Kaiser officials acknowledged the importance of increasing pay for those workers struggling most with the rising cost of living. “We see the impact that this has on our employees,” said Steve Shields, a senior vice president who oversees labor relations for Kaiser. “We needed to do more for those on the lowest end of the wage scales.”
About 1,500 health workers began a five-day strike against Prime’s St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, Calif., on Oct. 9, citing dangerous short-staffing practices. Pharmacy staff workers at some Walgreens stores in Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Massachusetts walked out on the same day, citing workloads so excessive that they could not safely fill prescriptions. Without a formal union, they organized on Facebook and Reddit.
The New York State Nurses Association entered a new contract with Mount Sinai Hospital, which includes an enforcement mechanism for nurse-patient staffing ratios.
But companies like Kaiser are under pressure to limit their expenses, and the organization emphasizes that it needs to make sure its care is affordable. The organization, which had operating revenue of $95.4 billion, reported an operating loss of $1.3 billion in 2022. In recent months, Kaiser has returned to profitability. Kaiser officials said the proposed deal should not result in higher rates for its members.