Kaiser workers strike in Fremont

Kaiser Permanente workers in Fremont hold up signs about why they're striking at a picket line on Thursday, Oct. 5. Workers are demanding better wages and improved staffing levels. (Sonia Waraich - East Bay Echo)

FREMONT, Calif. — Workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities across the state and country went on strike last week, demanding the health care company address low wages and staffing shortages.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, dozens of workers were outside Kaiser Permanente’s Fremont medical center on a lively picket line full of food, music and signs letting passersby know about their strike over unfair labor practices. Among them was Tommia Andrews, shop steward for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, who described how workers have to live far distances from the Fremont facility because they can’t afford to live in the surrounding neighborhood.

“Kaiser has lost their way,” Andrews said. “They’re supposed to be one of the best hospitals to work for
and right now it doesn’t seem that way.”

More than 75,000 SEIU-UHW workers, which include everyone from front desk staff to respiratory
care practitioners, launched the three-day unfair labor practices strike on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to protest
Kaiser executives’ bad faith bargaining tactics. Solidarity strikes were called in support of the workers.

This is the first time in two decades that the union has decided to strike and is the largest health care strike in U.S. history. Andrews said the historic strike comes on the heels of a historic pandemic, which had a massive impact on workers in the health care field. Frontline workers deserve to be compensated fairly given the sacrifices they made, she said.

“We didn’t know what we were coming into, we didn’t know what we were taking home,” Andrews said. “We had no next steps because everyone was trying to figure out what the COVID process was, but we were here. We were dedicated to making sure we took care of our patients.”

The strike at Kaiser Permanente is another sign of resurging labor activity in the United States. Workers
have been unionizing and going on strike at rates not seen in decades. Locally, the Teamsters have been picketing against Amazon and members of the East Bay Regional Park District union are trying to ensure workers are treated fairly by management.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, has been studying labor organizing for decades in addition to having worked as a labor organizer herself. She told the East Bay Echo that employers have always fought against improving working conditions, along with taxation and regulation. Worker organization is the only path to improved labor conditions, she said.

“Labor has to organize,” Bronfenbrenner said. “You don’t get labor law reform until you have power.”

The way people work has been shifting for decades, including an increasing reliance on third-party contractors, but labor organizing has been going on for centuries and there is always a way for even the most disparate workers to fight for their rights, she said. Andrews said that’s exactly what Kaiser workers intend to do.

“We want to make sure we stand united and stand for what we deserve,” Andrews said.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 510-952-7455.

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