Kaiser, Unions Agree to Resume Talks as Strike Threat Looms

Tens of thousands of Kaiser Permanente workers in multiple states ended their three-day strike Friday after negotiators failed to reach a contract agreement this week.

Both sides in the labor dispute agreed to resume stalled contract talks this week while union officials warned of possible further walkouts to come.

Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su, who played a role as mediator during an all-night negotiating session last week, said she will return to California to "assist the parties in advancing talks" when they return to the bargaining table this week, the U.S. Labor Department announced.

The strike started Wednesday morning and included 75,000 members of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and aligned unions, including roughly 19,000 Bay Area Kaiser employees -- 60,000 in California.

Union leaders warned the threat of a renewed strike will loom over the new negotiations.

“It is possible that the coalition will issue a 10-day strike notice after Saturday, which could lead to further striking by Kaiser employees after those ten days if Kaiser executives continue to commit unfair labor practices and bargain in bad faith,” union officials said in a news release Friday.

Kaiser and SEIU-UHW officials didn't meet Thursday or Friday and said the next bargaining session is scheduled for Thursday.

“We look forward to reaching a new agreement that continues to provide our employees with market-leading wages and benefits, and ensures our high-quality care is affordable and available to meet our members' needs,” Kaiser officials said in a statement.

The union says one of the main points of disagreement is Kaiser's outsourcing practices and that company leadership refuses to limit subcontracting for "critical healthcare duties."

“Frontline healthcare workers continue to await meaningful action by Kaiser executives to address our key priorities, including safe staffing, outsourcing protections for incumbent healthcare workers, and fair wages to reduce turnover,” said Gwendolyn Holloway, a contact lens technician at Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center.

Kaiser and the union have been negotiating over several items since April, including wage increases, starting salaries, hiring practices and workforce development, among other things.

The walkout, which the union says is the nation's largest ever health care strike, has impacted hundreds of Kaiser hospitals, clinics and offices in California, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Washington, D.C. and includes licensed vocational nurses, emergency department technicians, radiology technicians, ultrasound sonographers, teleservice representatives and respiratory therapists, among others.

During the strike, some outpatient pharmacies, laboratory, radiology and optical locations have closed or are operating with reduced hours.

People are encouraged to schedule appointments online at kp.org or by using the KP mobile app.

Patients with urgent needs for laboratory, radiology or optical services can call (866) 454-8855.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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