“We should all do this together. We could shut down Kaiser! Operations engineers speak out on two-month strike at Kaiser Permanente
Some 700 operating engineers at Kaiser healthcare facilities in northern California have been on strike for more than two months for better wages and increased staff.
There is tremendous support for the engineers in the Kaiser Network and among workers across California for their struggle. This was demonstrated late last week by two one-day sympathy strikes by other Kaiser workers which involved tens of thousands of workers. These strikes effectively ended much of the Kaiser system in the region, demonstrating the potential power of a united struggle attracting broader layers of the working class.
However, Kaiser’s unions worked to systematically isolate the strike. Although they were forced to call sympathy strikes last month over an overwhelming desire for a joint strike, before and after the one-day protests the same unions sent their members across the lines picket line of engineers.
The strike was also isolated by the cancellation by the United Nurses Associations of California / Union of Health Care Professionals of a strike of 32,000 nurses and healthcare workers in Southern California, just days before it began. . The unions are now trying to push through a tentative deal with massive concessions, against widespread opposition from Kaiser’s nurses.
The World Socialist Website (WSWS) spoke to several striking engineers about their conditions, the strike and unions, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
David, a Kaiser engineer from northern California, spoke to WSWS reporters after reading the founding statement of the Kaiser Workers Rank-and-File Committee posted on the WSWS.
David said it had been difficult during the pandemic to acquire the necessary PPE and it had taken months before Kaiser’s engineers received the equipment they needed. “We have to get into [rooms with COVID patients] a lot. If the bed is broken they don’t get the bed out to the hallway or anything, we have to go to the bedroom to fix it to replace a cord or something. Six months after the start of the pandemic, we were just given surgical masks and gloves and a gown, even though we needed N95 or even something better like a PAPR respirator. My wife and I were watching the news and seeing other workers wearing hazmat suits entering the COVID rooms as we entered with surgical masks. Soon we saw that even the Kaiser nurses were better protected.
David said he and his colleagues went to the manager to demand better PPE. âThey told us not to worry and it took forever to get the right gear. Now we have N95s and PAPR [powered air-purifying respirator] that we have to share.
When asked what he thought about the cancellation of the Kaiser nurses’ strike, he replied, âWe should all go on strike. We should all do this together. We could shut down Kaiser!
âWe’ve been here for two and a half months. I literally slept [on the picket line] because I’m on the cemetery quarter. Guys are going to start losing their homes. Some of us are single parents. And our union doesn’t tell us much. I’m for the union, but they don’t communicate. We came here and no one is doing anything.
Workers received a “nasty letter” after engineers started asking more questions about their union representation, David said. âIt said something like: ‘you chose to have us represented, you just have to stay by your side’â¦ We do not receive any help from the union media. I had to call different news agencies to get them to come here. I don’t know why the union doesn’t. Maybe they don’t want to upset Kaiser.
Laurent, a Kaiser operations engineer from northern California with over 40 years of experience whose name has been changed to protect his identity, shared what he learned about the use of scabs by the business. âIn San Jose, they have a scab boiler company coming up. “
âIn Southern California, the chief engineers are not unionized. They are Kaiser managers. They can force their chief engineers from Southern California to work here. But there aren’t 700.
âThey have Louisiana pipefitters sitting in the boiler room. They don’t even know what the equipment is. I heard from an employee at the Kaiser data center in Napa that they cannot operate important equipment due to lack of expertise. It’s not even that replacement workers don’t know how to work on the equipment, they don’t even know what the machine is and does.
âWe had some problems with the piping trades. Some unions cross our picket lines. Having said that … No engineer has crossed our picket line.
“Kaiser’s willingness to bring in scabs and bring in people who are not familiar with this stuff and expect the work to be done puts their patients’ lives at risk. . It’s beyond the bad news, unbelievable. If someone had told me 6 months ago that this would happen, I would have said you were crazy. About 6 months, expect the lawsuits to start rolling in.
âThey don’t keep records for all this equipment that has to be calibrated every month. They do not perform the tests necessary for emergency preparedness. They are completely neglected. Kaiser sends all these messages saying everything is taken care of. I have a Kaiser phone and see everything going on there. They haven’t tested anything. I think if a natural disaster were to happen, it would be their end. “
âPharmacists in Northern California were ready to [on strike on November 15] then Kaiser bullied them into agreeing to this tentative deal and the tentative deal was a half percent overall increase for a year and a 1% increase in their 401 (k).
“They wanted Juneteenth [as paid vacation], they wanted MLK’s birthday. They currently have a two tier retirement system. Whoever accepted this should have been shot. Kaiser said if they went on strike they would make examples of it like they are doing to us right now.
Lawrence countered Kaiser’s account that his engineers are overpaid. âThey want us to take $ 7 less than the going rate. Then they publish our salaries, including any benefits they pay themselves. If your health insurance costs $ 30,000 a year, they pay for it themselves. We’re the highest paid operations engineers, but we already live in the most expensive place of work. Most of us travel more than 160 km per day. A townhouse around here costs $ 1.1 million. Most are from Stockton, Manteca, Ripon. They spend 4 or 5 hours a day on the road.
âThe younger ones, there is no prayer for a new recruit or for anyone who has entered the trades in the past ten years, there is not even a prayer on their part to be able to buy a house or even a condo around here. “
Denouncing nurses’ overwork during the pandemic, Lawrence explained, âNurses are quitting en masse. At a time when nurses are fundamentally broken in. It usually takes about five years to become familiar with what they do. At that point, they resign. It’s a bit like working as a nurse in a MASH unit in a war zone, as patients die. The percentage of people who die is phenomenal. They had to bring in refrigerated trailers to store the corpses. “
Lawrence called for a united Kaiser-wide struggle. âWe are alone here, like David and Goliath. We need about 50,000 people to come here with us. We only stopped their operation during the sympathy strikes. This shut Kaiser down for two days.
âI heard about your coverage in Southern California, that the base is not happy with the [UNAC/UHCP] agreement in principle. I know the Northern California pharmacists have a tentative deal and their members are very unhappy with the tentative deal and it will either be ratified or denied on December 3rd. “
“We hope that the grassroots of these two groups reject Kaiser’s offer and that Kaiser will come back and give them what they need.”
To join the Kaiser Workers Rank-and-File committee, send an email [email protected] or text (213) 419-0737. Your name and contact details will not be shared publicly.