How Kaiser Workers Won

Over 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walked out on a three-day strike, marking the largest healthcare strike in U.S. history.

Maximillian Alvarez

Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers walk the picket line in Los Angeles as they begin a three-day strike involving more than 75,000 Kaiser workers on Wednesday, October 4, 2023. Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

Read the full transcript below.

From October 4-6 of 2023, the US experienced the largest healthcare worker strike in our history, when over 75,000 workers with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions went on a three-day strike against the healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente. Then, on October 13, after warning that more strikes could be coming if a deal wasn’t reached at the bargaining table, healthcare workers scored a major victory and reached a tentative agreement with Kaiser, which the union membership, accounting for over 85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers across the country, voted to ratify in early November. As the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions stated in a press release upon the contract ratification, In a historic victory for frontline healthcare workers, more than 85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers have overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new contract that will bolster patient safety, make critical investments in the healthcare workforce, and set a higher standard for the healthcare industry nationwide. Approved by a margin of 98.5%, the four-year contract is in effect from October 1, 2023, to September 30, 2027, at hundreds of Kaiser facilities across California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.” In this mini-cast, we speak with Meg Niemi, President of SEIU Local 49, and Audrey Cardenas, a benefits support specialist at a Kaiser dental office in Oregon, about how Kaiser healthcare workers took on the bosses and won this new contract, and what that is going to mean for workers and patients alike moving forward.


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Meg Niemi: My name is Meg Niemi. I’m the president of SEIU Local 49.

Audrey Cardenas: Hello, I’m Audrey Cardenas. I am a fees and benefits support specialist for Kaiser Permanente in the Tanasbourne/​ Hillsboro area. And I’m also the CIC for the bargaining team.

Maximillian Alvarez: All right, welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times Magazine and the Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like you. Working People is a proud member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network. So if you’re hungry for more worker and labor focused shows like ours, follow the link in the show notes and go check out the other great shows in our network.

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My name is Maximillian Alvarez and we’ve got a really exciting mini cast for y’all today. Now, you may not have heard about it, although I really hope that you did, but from October 4th through October 6th of this year, the US experienced the largest healthcare workers strike in our history, when over 75,000 workers with the coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, went on a three-day strike against the healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente. Then on October 13th after warning that more strikes could be coming if a deal was not reached at the bargaining table, healthcare workers scored a major victory and reached a tentative agreement with Kaiser, which the union membership, accounting for over 85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers across the country, voted to ratify in early November. As the coalition of Kaiser Permanente Union stated in a press release upon the contract ratification, In a historic victory for frontline healthcare workers, more than 85,000 Kaiser Permanente workers have overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new contract that will bolster patient safety, make critical investments in the healthcare workforce, and set a higher standard for the healthcare industry nationwide. Approved by a margin of 98.5%, the four-year contract is in effect from October 1st, 2023 to September 30th, 2027 at hundreds of Kaiser facilities across California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.” Now, as Reuters reported on November 9th, The new contract includes across the board wage increases, totaling 21% over four years, an increased payout for employees under a performance sharing plan and commitments to address a staffing crisis including increased training, education, and mass hiring events. The new deal also has protective terms around subcontracting and outsourcing of work and a one year accelerated hiring process by the hospital system, the union said. The union had accused the company of failing to address a prolonged staffing crunch that has left employees feeling overworked and underpaid while compromising patient care. New minimum wages will reach $25 per hour in California for union represented employees over three years and $23 per hour in other states where the hospital chain operates.”

Now, as we always do here on Working People and at the Real News Network, we’re going to take y’all to the front lines of struggle and talk to the people on the ground fighting the good fight to hear directly from them about what that fight entails, what they’re fighting for, and how we can all help. And I could not be more honored and excited to have Meg and Audrey on the show today to talk about a rare bit of good news for once. We’ve been covering a lot of really depressing stuff, but here we have a really inspiring story.

So let’s dig in and let’s talk about how Kaiser healthcare workers took on the bosses and fought and won this new contract and what that contract is going to mean for workers and patients alike moving forward. So Meg, Audrey, thank you both again so much for joining us today. I really, really appreciate it and I want to talk all about this. I want to hear from your perspectives what it’s been like being part of this incredible struggle. But before we do, since I’ve got you both on the line, I wanted to just take a step back first because I don’t think we can have this conversation until we give people a sense of just what healthcare workers are going through in this country. I published a book of interviews with workers that I recorded during year one of Covid. I’ve been interviewing workers on this show, Working People, all throughout Covid. And I feel like one of the things that I try to communicate to people who ask me like, What are workers thinking? What are they going through? What are you hearing?”

I’ll give some standard answers, like people are struggling to afford the cost of living. Our bosses are raking in record profits, but we’re all struggling to make ends meet. That is a pretty generalized condition for a lot of workers in this country. But I also have been telling people, listen, I have not spoken to a single healthcare worker in the past three years who hasn’t told me some version of we are in the midst of a crisis. Healthcare workers are burned the hell out. We are losing healthcare workers.We are piling more work onto fewer people. The quality of care is going down, the quality of life for workers is going down. This is a slow moving crisis that we are not prepared to address. So I wanted to ask just for you two to talk directly to our audience right now, from your respective vantage points as healthcare workers and unionists, what have you and your fellow healthcare workers been going through these past few years?

“Frontline healthcare workers didn’t even have the proper protective equipment in most cases, were absolutely being exposed.”

Meg Niemi: I’m really glad to hear us talk about what the pandemic was like for healthcare workers. And in a lot of ways, we’re still experiencing it on the front lines of healthcare. I know I got a call yesterday that one of the hospitals we represent is at max capacity. They’re trying to find additional beds. It just hasn’t stopped. And I think back, a number of people were able to work from home, shelter in place, and healthcare workers showed up every single day during the entire pandemic. And they didn’t only show up every day, they worked double time, they worked overtime, they worked weekends.

And I think about one of our bargaining team members, Megan Mayes, and she’s a registration representative at a Kaiser hospital. And this is a story she shared in the course of Kaiser bargaining to Kaiser management to try to make real what was going on for her. She’s a mom. She has two kids. During the pandemic, she was asked to work by Kaiser and asked to work extra shifts, and she felt an obligation to do that. To one, be there for her patients and be there because she knew our community needed her in a way that other people couldn’t be there.

And she also wanted to be there for her coworkers, to make sure that people were supporting each other. But it was scary. I mean, this was a time we didn’t have a vaccine. The frontline healthcare workers didn’t even have the proper protective equipment in most cases, were absolutely being exposed. But she showed up, worked those extra shifts. Well, in the meantime, her kids were out of school and at home. Who’s watching the kids, right? This whole question of who was taking care of those kids.

So later, she’s actually had to pay for private tutoring to help her kids get caught up because she was there taking care of patients. And in the midst of all of that, we saw inflation just take off, cost of gas, groceries, fuel to get to and from work. And as working families who are not making big salaries, our members are folks who are CNAs, registration reps, a lot of folks making about 20 bucks an hour trying to make all of those ends meet. And she shared in her story that her family couldn’t afford to buy chicken breast for two years because it was too expensive and out of reach.

She’s frugal and saves every penny. And so that is still going on for healthcare workers. All of these pressures: short staffing, the need to work overtime, the fear about the communicable diseases that they face on the job, and then coming out of that pandemic, being told by their employers that they’re heroes, that they’re doing amazing work. But then coming in and saying, I want the pay, and I want the benefits that show that respect in a concrete way.” And time after time, the Kaiser example is exactly right, we have to fight for that rather than employers meeting the moment and saying, Thank you for your work. We’ve been profitable during this whole period of time, and now we want to share those profits with you.” I’ll turn it over to you, Audrey, to talk about as a frontline healthcare worker, how you experienced it.

Audrey Cardenas: Yeah, so I work in the dental field. So we have dental offices that are through Kaiser Permanente. And because we were so limited on supplies and how to serve our communities and all of our patients and our workers and keep them in place, we shut down. We have 21 dental clinics in the Northwest and all of them shut down so that we could help support the hospitals and clinics the best of our abilities and salvage any of our PPE equipment that we needed for the hospitals.

And so a lot of our teams were shuffled around to help keep the hospitals clean with our EVS workers, our housekeeping, or to go into food and nutrition and help get food delivered to our patients. So it was a huge change in what they were used to. It was scary for them. We had folks who had to stay in hotels and wouldn’t go home because they were working in the hospital and they had never been exposed in that kind of an environment because they were coming from a dental clinic.

And so there was just so much change, so much of a scary world that they were coming from, myself coming from. We were already experiencing short staffing prior to Covid, and as we went through Covid, it just got worse and worse. And then when we were kind of pulled out of that emergency situation, then we thought, okay, we’re going to have our healthcare workers come back.” Our clinics were going to open up full capacity and whatnot. That didn’t happen in the sense of our staffing. We had our patients coming full force, but we didn’t have the staff to support the patient needs.

So that is something that they were still experiencing post Covid. And so I know on a personal level, I have a child who was diagnosed with a life-threatening complication where he chokes when he eats things or drinks things. And we got that diagnosed probably, I want to say maybe the beginning of this year, after months and months of the prior time trying to meet with doctors and doing a lot of Zoom meetings instead of in-person because of the pandemic, because of the lack of staff availability.

The specialist told us this is a very serious condition that needs to be taken care of. We need to get him scheduled for surgery so that he has a long life ahead of him. And even knowing that it was a priority, they didn’t have staffing to support the surgery. So they told us we had to wait six to nine months. And mind you, during this process, my son, at the time, he just turned 13, but he was 12 and he was getting infections all the time, on antibiotics, on steroids, all things that can be long-term affecting him. And so that was even after Covid. He still was waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. And luckily, we recently just barely about a month and a half ago, I want to say, he finally got scheduled to actually be seen, but he had already been seen by multiple specialists. And it just goes to say how short-staffed we are, and I’m a worker. And so I see that firsthand as a worker how short-staffed we are with our patients. Like I said, I’m in dental, so sometimes we have to tell our patients, Yeah, you have to get this cavity filled, but we don’t have schedules until another six months from now.” So then now that cavity turned into a root canal or the possibility of losing that tooth.

So I’m seeing that as a worker, but then I’m also seeing it as the patient, as the mother of my son going through all of this short-staffing as well. So as Meg had mentioned, we were all deemed heroes, but when it came down to it, once we were all out of this, we were just looked at as, okay, show up, show up, show up. We’re going to keep asking you to put in more work, put in, do more. Here’s more, so-and-so didn’t show up today. So now you need to take on that load and take on that load. And the patients keep coming because our community still needs to be served.

And so our ask always has been patient care first because as Kaiser Permanente employees, we are also the patients. Our families are also the patients. So we are being affected as employees and as patients themselves.

“I think the Kaiser contract campaign and effort is really a story of being stronger together as union members.”

Maximillian Alvarez: So I know this is going to be an important point when we talk about the contract fight, so we’re going to return to that in one second. And I will try to spare listeners my usual rant, but you guys have heard me talk to folks about this crisis of deliberate understaffing and how it is a scourge, a profit-maximizing, worker-squeezing scourge that is affecting industries across the board. It is what railroad workers were telling us all last year that their greedy Wall Street-led companies that are making more billions than they ever have, and shareholders are getting more payouts, bigger payouts than they’ve ever gotten. At the same time that they’re cutting their staff, they’re cutting corners, they’re cutting their operating costs every single year and piling more work onto fewer workers. Workers are exhausted.

And then you get things like East Palestine, Ohio or you get things like the shoplifting” like spree that we’ve been seeing across the country. If you guys watched our live stream at the Real News Network recently, where I spoke to Macy’s workers who went on strike in the Pacific Northwest, they had a pretty crucial point to make, which is we are being understaffed in these stores, and so we are being made a target for shoplifters because we’re not properly staffed, we don’t get proper security. And so we’re like sitting ducks. Dollar stores are like that. Chipotle stores are like that. Every customer has walked into somewhere in the past year and noticed, wow, this place seems really understaffed and these workers seem really stressed out. Then when you look around and you see that everyone is feeling that way, you got to start to ask yourself, where is this coming from? Is it the No one wants to work crap,” or is there something else going on here?

And so again, I want to talk about how that came to a head in the contract fight itself and how y’all fought to get those safer staffing levels and why that was so important? I did just want to make one comment, just because I don’t know if it’s something that y’all are comfortable saying out loud, but it’s just something I wanted to share with listeners because it’s something I’ve heard talking to multiple healthcare workers over the past few years, is just also the existential weight of everything y’all have been through. To be the front line of defense amidst a global health crisis when misinformation, disinformation and political polarization enter the conversation. Like getting vilified, getting yelled at, just getting caught in the crosshairs of all the crap that we experienced over Covid-19.

But also just seeing just all that death, all that pain up front and seeing the effects of bad policy decisions, people not taking precautions. All that human misery and pain ended up in the hospitals and healthcare workers are the ones dealing with that. That takes a toll. And then you add on all the stuff that we’re already talking about with being underpaid, understaffed. This is why we call it a crisis.

So I just wanted to acknowledge that and ask folks out there that if you know healthcare workers, tell them you love them. Tell them thank you. Give them some support because they desperately need it and deserve it. Now I’m going to shut up and I want to toss it back to y’all and ask, now walk me through the contract fight itself, because this was a pretty heavyweight battle. So picking up from the last question about Covid to now, how did this all come to a head in the contract fight? What were the major issues y’all were fighting for and just, yeah, give our listeners a sense of what that fight entailed and what it was like for you to be in the midst of it.

Meg Niemi: Well, I think the Kaiser contract campaign and effort is really a story of being stronger together as union members. And hearing you, Maximilian, talk about that. Absolutely, a huge part of this is the passion our members have for their work and coming to the table, like Audrey was talking about, we’re not only Kaiser employees, we’re Kaiser patients and we want to make patient care better.

And our members saw people die. They had friends die. They held the hands of people whose family members couldn’t come in and be with them. You’re right, they had to tell people, No, you can’t come into the hospital with your loved one. You have to leave them here.” And the impact of the short staffing that started way before the pandemic was a major issue that people were absolutely fired up about trying to address that.

And I think one thing I would just encourage any folks listening to this, is it really is different to have a union and have that ability to bargain collectively with your co-workers about those kinds of working conditions rather than just sit in that terrible situation with no tools to be able to do anything about it.

And the Kaiser Coalition, we’re 85,000 healthcare workers united across Kaiser. You mentioned the states earlier, but-California, Oregon, Washington, the Mid-Atlantic states, and what we were able to bring to the table with that kind of unity and that kind of power is really different than any one of these bargaining units bargaining alone. This was about a staffing crisis, and that is how our members have felt it and experienced it, and it was the number one issue we wanted to address in bargaining. And we knew underlying that staffing crisis was a number of issues. One of those issues was the ability to recruit high-quality healthcare workers to train people into the right jobs that are needed because there are literally hundreds of types of skills that are needed to provide care in a healthcare setting and also pay and benefits were a huge part of this to be able to say that healthcare is a place that people felt was worth working in and staying in. And so those were underlying major issues that we wanted to address in this set of negotiations.

Audrey Cardenas: Yes, I would just add, as Meg mentioned, I mentioned it earlier too, we had a staffing issue prior to Covid, and it only got worse. And one thing that we learned during Covid as workers is that Kaiser staffed us to their best abilities, and we lost coworkers, whether it had been due to Covid or because they just left the healthcare system altogether, but we still kept running. And so when we came back post-Covid, those positions that were left empty never got filled because us workers were still doing the work.

So then when we came to the bargaining, Kaiser Permanente management kept telling us, You’re overpaid, you’re overpaid, you’re overpaid, and your staffing is just fine. Your staffing levels are fine.” And we would give examples over and over and over of issues that would come up because we didn’t have staff, our patients not being able to be in the clinics or getting their appointments in a timely manner because there was no availability. That’s heartbreaking.

I work, like I mentioned, in our benefits and insurance, and I would work very closely with our elderly community that have senior advantage plans and they have limited income, they have a very specific income, and they’re utilizing their benefits to be seen and can’t because we don’t have the staff to provide them the care that they need, or they are coming in and they have to come back because they don’t have that appointment to complete everything that’s needed in that timeframe. So that was very heartbreaking to see and explain to them, I’m very sorry, we don’t have availability for you right now,” and them not understanding because we’re open and we’re running. And so that was very hard.

And then when you look at it in the sense of seeing our co-workers, all they want to do is provide, they want to provide the care that our patients deserve. This is why they’re in this industry. They’re healthcare workers. They care about our patients, they care about the community and not being able to provide that because they don’t have the staff to support them. And then as Meg mentioned, there’s lots of underlying issues that help support the staff, but we do know that pay is a big one. We can’t recruit folks if we’re underpaying them and we have someone next door that’s willing to pay them much more. We want the best of the best so that we can provide the best of the best to our communities and our patients. So that’s been our number one struggle is getting our staffing.

Maximillian Alvarez: All right, so I got to ask, so you’re at the bargaining table, management’s saying, Ah, you’re overpaid, and your staffing is just fine.” Then bam, how about three days of the biggest healthcare workers strike in US history? What was it like to be part of that, and how did their tune change after that?

Meg Niemi: I mean, the energy of the three-day strike was incredible. I had the opportunity, I was outside of Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center at the beginning, at 6 A.M. was when our members said that they were going to walk out, and I’m literally in tears to talk about this, but there was members of ours there with their kids, with their strollers, with their family members showed up, making sure that everybody got to walk out of the hospital and join them and be on that picket line and that action line. And most of our Kaiser members have never been on a strike or taken an action like this. And we literally couldn’t even get a picket line up and running because there was so many hundreds and hundreds of people that came out and stood out there.

And I think that, one of the things I was really struck by was the participation in the strike. Almost everybody went on strike, almost everybody came out on the picket line, and that surprised management. They didn’t believe what we were telling them, which was that people were not okay with what Kaiser was offering. It wasn’t enough. It didn’t meet the moment of what people had done. And so people really showed them with their feet by walking that line and coming out there.

But what was amazing was the joy and the passion and the community, that Kaiser workers care so much about each other, they care about their community, the honking, the doctors, the nurses who weren’t on strike with us that were bringing out food and showing that care and concern. And I said to myself, if this company can figure out how to tap into the passion of this set of healthcare workers, they really can deliver the highest quality care, but they’ve really got to listen to their workers. And while we were literally on the strike line management started to bargain with themselves. They started to put out wage offers that were higher than they had offered any of us at the official bargaining table, thinking that maybe people would come back to work and no one did until the strike was officially over. But after that, they said… Things moved swiftly after our three day strike.

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Audrey Cardenas: I would say that it was such a beautiful moment to be a part of as a worker and as part of our community, as a union worker. I mean, it was absolutely beautiful. Obviously, going on strike is never the first ideal thing we want to do, but it came to that point and to show the support that we had, not only from our workers, but from our communities, it was absolutely beautiful. And it opened the eyes, I believe, to Kaiser management that we are important and we aren’t just making things up to get more or to complain. We deserved more and our community deserved more, and now we’re able to provide them what they deserve and we’re able to get what we deserve as workers. And just, it really truly is a historical moment.

I’ve worked with Kaiser for 10 years, and I know that in the Northwest, we haven’t been on strike since 97. And as Meg mentioned, many of our workers, this was the first time we’ve had quite a bit, I want to say over 1,000 new employees alone in this past maybe what two years I believe it is. And to see even them being out there and supporting this, not really knowing fully what they’re doing, but saying, What can I do? How can I support?” Asking those questions, getting involved, just, I can’t even express how beautiful that was. If we had to do it again, I would do it all over again.

Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah, baby. Well, and I want to close out by asking about that, because it was frustrating that such a momentous strike and a contract fight admittedly did not get the type of coverage that say the UAW got during the autoworker strike, the Teamsters in the lead up to the UPS strike. But it’s all happening. Y’all were fighting this fight amidst this sort of sea change that we’re trying to cover every week here on the show. Because not only were we interviewing UPS teamsters and autoworkers throughout those strikes, but we’re talking to you guys. I mentioned the Macy’s workers who went on strike, Starbucks workers who are still fighting to get that first contract. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers have been on strike for over a year. We had the Hollywood Writers and Actors strike this summer while y’all were preparing to go on the largest US health care worker strike in our history, tens of thousands of hotel workers in Las Vegas were prepared to shut down the Vegas Strip fighting for their own contract.

So something’s happening here, and it’s something that feels like a broader working class sentiment. That like, Hey, we are the ones who kept the world going, not only during Covid, but actually for all time,” it feels like people are waking up to that. I think that’s one silver lining to the horror of Covid was, yeah, the bosses were forced to admit how much they need us, society was forced to acknowledge how much we keep things running and not the people in the boardrooms who got to ride it all out in their second or third home, but I digress. The point being is that something’s happening here and y’all are a critical part of it.

So I wanted to ask how you see this struggle in the larger sweep of worker unrest and worker fight back that we’re seeing in this country. So that’s a more general question, but then I guess on the more specific side, what is this new contract going to mean for you all and your co-workers and for your patients moving forward? I guess, just any final words you wanted to share about what you won, why it’s important, and what it’s going to mean for the industry and for Kaiser workers moving forward.

Meg Niemi: It was really incredible to be on strike with 75,000 healthcare workers, as you said, the largest healthcare workers strike in the country, and to see people who literally had started days before the strike a new job and then came out and joined the picket line. I’m really inspired by young people and folks that are coming into the workforce who are saying, Nope, we’re not going to put up with these kinds of conditions and we’re willing to take direct action.” I think it’s been a huge part of when we’ve made strides forward as a working class in this country. I think it is part of, people are just squeezed by corporate greed in this country. No matter how hard they’re working, it’s hard to get by. With the high cost of gas, groceries, rent, or mortgages, it is really difficult. And I think being part of a union and part of the labor movement is a key way that we can upend some of that corporate greed and workers get their fair share.

In this example with Kaiser members, what we were able to accomplish with those 85,000 members total together was, we did make huge progress and we got Kaiser management to say yes to a lot of things they had said no to for a really long time. Wouldn’t have happened without the strike. Some of those things include wage increases that are bigger than we’ve ever won across the board. Wage increases for healthcare workers, we think that’s critical to retaining staff. We got big investments in education and training for current employees to be able to move up the career lattices in the healthcare field, as well as recruit friends and family to come into the healthcare industry

Kaiser was trying to subcontract out to non-union hundreds and thousands of jobs, and we got a commitment that they will not subcontract out those jobs and to that job security. Those were critical things that we advanced. And I hope, Audrey, when you talk as well about how you experienced the strike, but also talking about some of the work you did because we’ve seen a lot of work move remote during the pandemic, but the job security for remote workers is really not the same. And Audrey really played a key role in helping advance some of that, so I hope she’ll share about it.

Audrey Cardenas: Thank you, Meg. So yes, I did work on getting us a work from home agreement. What that really means is that there’s a little bit more security for folks who are working from home. We have folks who’ve been doing it for five plus years. They’ve made their life around working from home. So in the event that someone was to be called back, we have some security around that. They can go to school and take some extra classes so that they can apply to another position that would still keep them working from home versus maybe having to move closer to a facility. So that was a big win. And then we were able to get some reimbursements for internet use and phone usage that we know that has increased, especially since the work from home. A lot of schooling is now remote. So those companies have raised their prices, which we’re working families, we’re not making millions of dollars to where internet is a minimal thing. It could be a big deal for some of our families. So we’re able to get some reimbursement increases on that.

You mentioned what is this doing for some of these families, some of our workers or all of our workers that are impacted by this contract? One thing that stands out for me is, when we were doing our ratification vote, we had this amazing tool that kind of gave us an estimate of what someone’s wage increase would look like, whether it had been the minimum wage increase or any kind of differential that they may qualify for. One lady was absolutely in tears. She was EVS worker, so she’s one who keeps our hospitals running. She’s keeping everything clean. She said, I can retire now.” She was locked into some benefits that she … I want to say she was in her late 70s and she’s working well over full-time, 40 hours, picking up extra hours to make ends meet, rarely seeing her family because she was working so much. The facilities are 24-hour clinics, so she was picking up whatever she could.

We knew that that particular classification was on the lower pay scale, and they worked very, very hard in what they do. They’re really a key component that keeps our clinics, hospitals, all of our facilities ready to go to bring in our patients, and they were well underpaid. So to see that joy on her face, that she was going to be able to maybe cut back some of her hours to be with her family and now look forward to retiring instead of stressing out saying, I can’t retire yet because I still can’t make ends meet,” that was what it was about.

All the fight that we put in. I know that I was part of the bargaining team, so I was traveling back and forth and going to the table, national and regionally, but that’s what it was about. Not myself, but for all of our workers that deserve so much more and have so much key play in how our hospitals and clinics run, to see them actually be noticed and actually get what they deserve, to be able to spend time with their family and not have to be picking up all these additional hours or extra jobs on the side outside of Kaiser Permanente.

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Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe​se​Times​.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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