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Kaiser Permanente strike ends without resolution, but workers are prepared to strike again

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The three-day walkout of Kaiser Permanente health employees has ended. It included 75,000 - mainly support staff - across five states and Washington, D.C. About 80% of the workers were in California. Jackie Fortier with LAist has more.

JACKIE FORTIER: Semitrucks and cars honked their horns in solidarity at hundreds of striking Kaiser Permanente health workers in front of a hospital in LA County.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS HONKING)

FORTIER: Union member Sophia Calhoun has worked in member services for Kaiser Permanente for 29 years.

SOPHIA CALHOUN: I don't think it's so much that we want more money, we deserve more money. We work hard, we work understaffed and we deserve to be getting paid for it. Instead, we're getting things taken away from us.

FORTIER: She said short staffing has led to longer wait times and fewer people like her to answer questions. That annoys patients.

CALHOUN: People are longer on hold, not enough staff to service them with anything that they may need, may it be the laboratory, the pharmacy, appointments for the doctor's office, time turnaround from the messages they may have left, all types of things.

FORTIER: Kaiser Permanente has an outsized footprint in California. It dominates half the insurance marketplace in the state and operates three dozen hospitals and hundreds of medical offices. So it's also California's largest health care provider. After decades with the health care giant, Calhoun doesn't feel like she can go to a different employer.

CALHOUN: I'm invested. I don't know of anyone who's been on a job almost 30 years that can just pick up and walk away. And when you're at a certain age, as well.

FORTIER: Thirty-year-old Marco del Rosario was also on the picket line. He's a former Marine, and he's worked at this Kaiser Permanente hospital for two years as a physical therapy aide. He says the hospital needs at least three physical therapy aides, but he's the only one. That means he's often called in for literal heavy lifting when patients are so debilitated it takes more than one person to move them.

MARCO DEL ROSARIO: That takes a toll on somebody's physical body. So I'm lifting these patients up every day 'cause I can't see single patients by myself. I don't have that license to do so.

FORTIER: He's studying to be a physician assistant but already feels burned out.

DEL ROSARIO: I felt it already, and I'm not even at my career yet.

FORTIER: To keep workers like Del Rosario, union leaders say the minimum pay needs to be bumped up to $25 an hour companywide. Kaiser executives proposed a $21 minimum in most states and $23 in California. This strike is over, but the issues the unions raised are far from settled. The federal government limits how long strikes can last in the health care industry. But if in-person talks next week fail, union leaders say another strike is on the table. For NPR News, I'm Jackie Fortier in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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