While 3,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers walked off the job with picket signs across Colorado, workers in Brighton were marching too and fighting for pay increases and to solve labor shortage issues.
The strike started on Oct. 5, with over 75,000 striking across the country, according to Service Employees International Union SEIU.
“The Brighton frontline healthcare workers are out here because they’ve been asking for and demanding real solutions on how to solve the Kaiser short-staffing crisis, how bad the pay is,” said Stephanie Felix-Sowy, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105.
SEIU Local Union 105 represents over 4,000 Kaiser healthcare employees and 3,000 frontline workers in Colorado.
At the Brighton Kaiser at 859 S. 4th Ave., healthcare workers were picketing in front of Kaiser, walking along 4th Avenue and Bromley Lane, waving to cars driving to honk in support of their cause.
Felix-Sowy said the Kaiser frontline healthcare workers across the state 3000 are striking because of an unfair labor practices. The Kaiser Permanente executives have not come to the bargaining table in good faith since starting in April, she said.
Felix-Sowy said union members presented a plan to solve the staff shortage crisis that would have accelerated and simplified the hiring process. The goal is to bring people in at competitive wage to retain existing staff committed to Kaiser and helping patients— and more make the jobs more competitive to attract new hires.
“We’ve also asked for an increase in education funding so that again, we can help people get into health care and also provide some career opportunities for the folks who are loyal Kaiser employees,” Felix-Sowy said.
Felix-Sowy said Kaiser talks of staffing shortages across the country and industry.
“We acknowledge that however, Kaiser needs to be better with our membership, frontline health care workers, the patients who are receiving care, expect better. Patients pay for their services, and all of the plans this year have been increased in price,” Felix-Sowy said.
Felix-Sowy said patients in the buildings for appointments and over the phone are experiencing longer wait times for essential services like labs, screenings, colonoscopy, and mammography.
“We believe Kaiser should be doing better for our healthcare workers,” Felix-Sowy said.
Felix-Sowy said the solution for the hiring practices needs to be better and faster. One of their members took her four to six weeks to hear from Kaiser about a job.
“We hear from other people going to leave the Kaiser and to other systems, say those hiring practices sometimes only a week long. The long hiring practice will affect the ability to bring people in Felix-Sowy.
“People who worked for Kaiser for years go to another job, and other places offer hiring bonuses, retention, and higher pay and benefits; it affects folks.”
Felix-Sowy said the other solution that keeps good workers and attracts good workers in healthcare is career ladder opportunities and investment in them.
“We asked Kaiser for commitment to education and career advancement for our members as we move forward,” Felix-Sowy said.
Peter Cain, a Kaiser licensed practical nurse, said many things are on the table, such as retirement, staffing, and pay raises.
“Our patients come first; we need more staff. We can’t take care of the patients that we currently have because we need more staff. We have been fighting for so long this year, and finally, strike for it was bad enough. Retirement is a huge issue; pay increases the cost of living,” Cain said.
“These are all crucial for us to maintain. If we get more people in, we’re hoping for a decent wage to bring them in. We have to be able to have enough money to entice new employees. I stand behind our union with them going to the table, which is exciting for us. We are not going to compromise, and we need them not to compromise,”
Lindy Vallejos, a Kaiser clinical laboratory assistant phlebotomist, said that member access is more important.
“I have family members that are immunocompromised. They have to wait three to six months to see their physician. It’s concerning for me. Also, Vallejos said that a friend who is going through a lot had to have a stent procedure, and it took over a month for her to get scheduled for the procedure,” Vallejos said.
Vallejos said another issue is her coworkers are all very overworked. It’s expected that many of them have to work a lot of overtime on weekends.
“The beautiful part is that frontline healthcare workers have real solutions that they have brought to Kaiser and are willing to work with Kaiser to make sure that we can solve it together,” Felix-Sowy said.