Sanders backs Kaiser Permanente workers ahead of Monday strike

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money — No SALT, and maybe no deal Menendez goes after Sanders over SALT comments It's time for the Senate to vote: Americans have a right to know where their senators stand MORE (I-Vt.) and seven Senate Democrats on Friday urged Kaiser Permanente to negotiate a new contract with more than 30,000 health care workers planning to go on strike Monday.

In a letter to Kaiser Permanente CEO Greg Adams, the senators expressed support for the company’s nurses and other health care workers threatening to walk out for better wages, calling them “heroes and heroines” for fighting on the front lines of the pandemic. 

“Instead of treating these workers with the dignity and respect they deserve you have demanded that they accept just a 2 percent wage increase and a two-tier system that allows you to pay new workers lower wages,” the senators wrote. “Considering your recent profit margins, we find this offer to be demeaning and unacceptable.”

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Kaiser Permanente employees in California, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii are set to strike Monday after rejecting a contract offer that they said did not provide sufficient pay increases or address severe burnout in the workforce. 

Unions representing the workers have noted that Kaiser Permanente reported $2.2 billion in profits last year and is sitting on $44.5 billion in cash reserves, a point that the senators emphasized in their letter.

“Let’s be clear. Those company profits did not occur by accident. They occurred because your employees were on the job, working tirelessly in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic,” the senators wrote.

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The strike could upend health care coverage on the West Coast amid a deadly pandemic, a situation both sides have said they want to avoid. Kaiser Permanente has pledged to continue offering services and is attempting to hire part-time nurses in the event of a strike.

In a statement Friday, Kaiser Permanente said that the company believes it is "on a path to reaching an agreement."
 
"We believe we can reach an agreement that meets our shared interests and avoid unnecessary and harmful disruptions to care," Kaiser Permanente said. "We also absolutely believe that as we conclude bargaining this cycle, and get through the disastrous pandemic, we will emerge stronger and more united than ever before.”
 
Workers in various industries across the nation are threatening to strike for better wages and working conditions. Their efforts are bolstered by a tight labor market that is making it difficult for companies to find workers. More than 10,000 John Deere workers have been on strike for over a month as they hold out for a better contract.
 
— Updated at 4:12 p.m.