Voices from Kaiser Hawai’i Picket Lines

Kaiser health care workers marched the Honolulu picket line on day two of their strike over staffing. Photos: UNITE HERE Local 5.

Members of UNITE HERE Local 5 walked out February 2 on a six-day strike that closed down 10 of Kaiser Permanente’s 22 Hawai’i clinics. The union’s 1,900 members do such jobs as housekeeper, lab assistant, receptionist, and certified nursing assistant.

The big sticking point is staffing. While Kaiser’s member numbers grow (spurred by the Affordable Care Act) and profits soar, it has closed its Honolulu urgent care clinic and laid off staff. The weeklong walkout follows four one-day strikes since 2013.

Local 5 and the National Union of Healthcare Workers are the only Kaiser unions with still-open contracts. In January, NUHW’s mental health workers in California held their own weeklong strike, also over staffing—while the California Nurses Association reached a deal, averting strike plans. The national agreement between Kaiser and the coalition of unions led by the Service Employees (SEIU) expires in September. – Alexandra Bradbury

Picketers were up before the sun at Kaiser Moanalua the first day of the strike.

Leafleting patients at Kaiser Hilo.

A rally in Waikiki on day four drew 1,000 workers and supporters.

When I first started in 2004, patient care was a lot more personal. We were able to get to know the patients. Lines were not chaotic. CEOs used to walk around and get to know members and our concerns. Now there are long lines at the pharmacy and cashier registration desk, and longer waits on mail-order prescriptions…

What started as a two- to three-minute patient intake now takes five to 10 minutes. It is no longer a personal experience, but a list of 21 questions for the patient to fill out. When the appointment is done, we are administering immunizations, scheduling short-term appointments, and conducting minor procedures. This repeats through the entire day—on top of phone calls, patient emails, and patient walk-ins…

A lot of times, I don’t get the chance to sit until my lunch break or at the end of my shift… By the end of the workday I feel like I’ve worked enough for two to three people.

Jonah Pascual, medical assistant, Honolulu

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Workers like myself have been quite frustrated for several years due to the decrease in staff and support… It saddens me when patients are just being shuffled through our health care system, and health care workers have to hustle our patients like it’s a fast-food driveway.

Cindy Aban, medical assistant, Honolulu

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It’s disconcerting when I see and hear patients in here calling for help but can’t be heard; when doctor’s orders are delayed, due to lack of staff and cuts to staffing. Patients are forced to travel further to get care since the nearby clinic was closed.

Gerald Penaflor, lab assistant, Moanalua

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There is also a lack of bargaining in good faith by Kaiser. They will attend bargaining, but they will not make decisions on that day—and they don’t have the info needed that was requested from us at the last bargaining date. And they still say they are bargaining in good faith.

Ray Bragado, surgical technician, Moanalua

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I have been on the picket lines all week. Kaiser is accusing us of “purposely blocking patients” from receiving care from our facilities. We are encouraging patients to come in, not blocking them… Kaiser closed urgent care at Honolulu and is laying off workers. They’re the ones blocking patients from getting the care they deserve.

Gracie Esperanza, ward clerk, Moanalua