Kaiser Permanente Colorado employees who went on strike this week over wages and staffing levels were expected to return to work Saturday morning, but could walk out again next month if they don’t reach a deal.
Stephanie Felix-Sowy, president of Service Employees International Union Local 105, said the striking unions and Kaiser Permanente will resume negotiations Thursday, and members are hopeful that their three-day walkout will lead to agreement on a new contract.
SEIU Local 105 represents about 3,000 technicians, office workers, licensed practical nurses and others who were on strike at Kaiser Permanente Colorado, part of a national labor action by unions representing tens of thousands of Kaiser workers in multiple states.
“It sounds like Kaiser is eager to get back,” Felix-Sowy said.
If negotiations don’t progress, the bargaining team will check with members to see whether they want to pursue another strike, Felix-Sowy said. Because members authorized a strike of up to two weeks, they wouldn’t need to take a full vote again, she said. About 99% of Colorado members who voted were in favor of authorizing a strike.
“Everybody knows that the option of going out again in November has been part of the plan,” she said.
Close to half of Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s 6,800 employees walked out from Wednesday through Friday. They’re scheduled to resume work at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Physicians, registered nurses and others were still working during the strike, allowing office visits to continue. Kaiser Permanente Colorado did close 11 pharmacies and 21 labs, and didn’t offer routine X-rays at 24 imaging departments.
The organization, which is both a health care provider and a nonprofit insurance company, has about 500,000 members in Colorado and runs 33 medical offices statewide.
Kelli Kane, vice president of ambulatory operations at Kaiser Permanente Colorado, said office visits went “smoothly,” because they were able to move some people’s appointments up to before the strike, and administrators helped out with support tasks like checking in patients. They had to consolidate some services, because it was more challenging to find substitutes with those specific skills, she said.
It’s possible there will be an increase in appointments next week, because some people didn’t want to cross a picket line, but they don’t expect a significant bottleneck, Kane said.
“Kaiser Permanente’s top priority is caring for our patients,” she said.
The sides haven’t sat down to talk since midday Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
Unions representing Kaiser Permanente employees in other states were also on strike, with about 75,000 people not reporting to work. Their contracts expired Sept. 30, and the sides haven’t been able to reach an agreement on wages and staffing.
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