Union members begin three-day strike at Kaiser hospitals over stalled negotiations
By Will Bigham, Staff Writer
Created: 09/21/2011 09:26:12 AM PDT

FONTANA – About 2,500 unionized Kaiser Permanente employees in Southern California began a three-day strike today (Wednesday), forming picket lines at hospitals here, in Los Angeles and in San Diego.

The employees, who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, staged the strike to protest potential changes to their retirement and medical benefits, and to demand increased staffing levels.

The employees, which include about 1,100 nurses, 1,100 counselors and therapists, and 300 other healthcare workers, are working under a contract with Kaiser Permanente that expired last year.

A renewed contract is being negotiated, according to union employees and a Kaiser statement.

“We continue to bargain in good faith and look forward to reaching a fair and equitable contract,” said a statement from Kaiser on the organization’s website.

Kaiser said it’s “taken necessary steps to ensure minimal disruption” during the strike.

Medical centers were scheduled to remain open, though some patients may be forced to reschedule appointments, according to Kaiser’s statement.

About 50 picketing employees displayed signs to passing motorists Wednesday morning outside the Valley Boulevard entrance to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana.

One of the strikers, Marty Needleman, a psychiatric social worker at a Kaiser facility in Montclair, said hospital management has attempted to cut costs by keeping staffing levels low, thus reducing the quality of patients’ care.

Needleman said he’s a member of the union committee currently negotiating with Kaiser over a new contract.

He said Kaiser has proposed changing employees’ retirement plans from a defined pension to a 401(k)-style plan.

He said Kaiser is seeking to increase premiums and co-payments for employees’ medical plans – plans that the company has proposed to cut in quality, according to Needleman.

He said such cost-cutting measures could result in experienced Kaiser employees leaving for other companies.

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