Kaiser Permanente workers rallied outside of the Honolulu clinic on Labor Day to urge the company to improve wages and propose a better contract as the COVID-19 pandemic pushes hospitals and healthcare workers to their limits.
The union held a virtual celebration and rally today to bring attention to the plight of workers in the hospitality and healthcare field, many who remain unemployed and those on the job are having their stamina tested by the surging Delta variant.
The union is asking workers and the public to email Governor David Ige and state lawmakers and ask them to fund additional unemployment benefits, and release a detailed plan on how the state will help workers amid the current COVID surge while hotel occupancy drops and employers use the virus to justify workforce and wage reductions.
Local 5’s contract with Kaiser expires at the end of the month and negotiations are dragging with little progress, said Eric Gill, the union’s financial secretary and treasurer, during the online rally.
In the hospitality industry, only 67% of Local 5 members are back to work, according to a union news release, and Kaiser Permanente is proposing a “destructive wage system and ignoring short staffing issues” in their most recent contract proposal to workers that follows an announcement that the company is outsourcing dozens of jobs to the mainland.
On Aug. 25, Kaiser Permanente proposed a two-tier wage scale that healthcare unions argue will pay desperately needed new hires significantly lower wages while current employees will receive a 1% annual raise for the next three years.
“Kaiser workers have been through hell and back the last year and a half,” said Gill, during the Facebook live rally Monday. “There has been very, very little progress at the bargaining table, we’ve been trying for months. It’s clear to me the employer is taking our workers lightly. They are showing no respect. It’s time for Kaiser to step up and do its part. Instead of cutting jobs in Hawaii they should be adding jobs in Hawaii.”
About 25 Kaiser workers waved signs in front of the healthcare provider’s Honolulu clinic, backed by a big banner that read “Defend our Healthcare Heroes.”
Stephanie Meredith, who works at the Honolulu clinic came out to let people know what Kaiser workers are going through as the pandemic rages and short staffed, over burdened hospitals are asking a lot more of their workers.
“Patients can see staff running around trying to help as many patients as possible. People are coming home burned out having to work another shift the next day and then have to worry, am I still going to have my job?”
“There is so much going on that people feel if I don’t do this, if I call out sick even, I might not have a job and it’s just not right,” she said.
Making matters worse, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, designed for workers who are out of work for more than six months, ended Monday.
PEUC has 25,441 Hawaii claimants, of which 6,500 previously opted to stay on PEUC instead of file a new, initial claim, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Those 6,500 still may be eligible to file now for a regular unemployment claim pending weekly certification. Applicants are encouraged to file for the week ending Sept. 4 anytime before Saturday.
Those who qualify will be be moved back to the new, initial claim and PEUC claim they were on will be invalidated.
Nationwide unemployment is down since the start of the pandemic.
In the week ending August 28, the preliminary count of seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims was 340,000, a decrease of 14,000 from the week before, the U.S. Department of Labor announced in a news release Thursday. It is the lowest level for initial claims since Mar. 14, 2020 when 256,000 initial unemployment claims were reported as government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak shuttered businesses and severely slowed the economy.
The PEUC and other aid programs for workers were part of a package of legislation enacted after the outbreak and was extended by President Joe Biden in March.
In a Jul. 13 news release posted in the section of Kaiser Permanente’s website dedicated to workers, the company lauded the 24 year partnership with organized labor and said it was looking forward to agreeing on a second national contract covering the 22 unions who represent Kaiser employees across the country.
“We share a goal to remain a best place to work while offering high-quality, affordable health care to our members,” the Jul. 13 statement read. “A new national agreement will ensure we continue to successfully work together to help Kaiser Permanente remain competitive, become more affordable, and continue to grow.”