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Kaiser Permanente therapists, pharmacists set strike date

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A group of 165 pharmacists and therapists in Hawaii will join more than 1,800 other health care employees in a strike over Kaiser Permanente’s wage proposals as contract negotiations continue.

The 165 workers — 105 pharmacists and 60 therapists, who include physical and occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists — represented by the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, announced on Facebook Thursday afternoon that they will begin their strike on Nov. 22 at 7 a.m.

“We care deeply about the patients at Kaiser Permanente and want to ensure that Kaiser remains one of the best places to receive care and to work in the state of Hawaii. We believe the two go hand in hand,” the union said in a statement. “We announce the strike because we are willing to fight to protect our current benefits and ensure that new employees do not come in at below- market wage rates.”

The strike coincides with the 1,800 or so employees — who include licensed practical nurses, pharmacy technicians, clerks and others — represented by Unite Here Local 5 who already have planned a strike for the same day.

The strikes are over Kaiser’s latest wage proposals, which include 2% annual pay raises and 2% annual lump sum bonuses in a four-year contract and which union leaders say would amount to less than the 4% annual pay increase they are requesting. The 2% bonuses for the final two years would be contingent upon an agreement to a two-tier wage system that Local 5 said would cut the pay of new hires by 26% to 33%.

The pharmacists and therapists represented by UNAC/UHCP are negotiating their first contracts with Kaiser and, on top of the wages dispute, are fighting against reported proposals from Kaiser that would cut into their retirement benefits.

“We feel strongly that this is a penalty for uniting together and wanting to have a voice and joining a union,” said Jake Elsbernd, an Oahu pharmacist and a UNAC/UHCP staff representative. “We’re not going to ask anyone to take a retirement cut for joining a union.”

Elsbernd has been negotiating the details of the contract with Kaiser on behalf of the pharmacists since 2019.

A group of 51 Kaiser mental health clinicians also has authorized a strike over the wage proposal but has not yet provided its 10-day strike notice.

Kaiser, which has described itself as “one of the most labor-friendly organizations” in the country, said it was “very disappointed” after Local 5 gave its strike notice on Wednesday.

“We’ve been bargaining in good faith with Local 5 … since April and sincerely believe that a strike is unwarranted, especially given the strength of the current proposal and Kaiser Permanente’s already market- leading wages and benefits,” the health care provider said in a statement Thursday to customers.

Thursday’s UNAC/UHCP announcement said that 1,300 rehab therapists in Northern California also will strike on the same day as the Hawaii employees.

Both UNAC/UHCP and Local 5 belong to the Alliance of Health Care Unions, which said that altogether nearly 38,000 members who work at Kaiser on the West Coast and in Hawaii have submitted their 10-day strike notices.

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