SPRINGFIELD, Va. – The largest health care strike in U.S. history kicked off on Wednesday, with 180 Washington, Maryland and Virginia-area Kaiser Permanente pharmacists and optometrists joining the picket line outside Springfield Medical Center, only a fraction of the company’s 75,000 walking out after Kaiser’s contract expired on Saturday. Union workers are protesting against what they see as unfair labor practices.

“I don’t know that necessarily anyone fully expected this to happen because it’s never happened before,” Kaiser pharmacist Logan Altizer said. Altizer is a member of OPEIU Local 2, the DMV’s Kaiser union striking on Wednesday.

Bargaining negotiations extended through Wednesday morning but have left union workers unsatisfied. Among workers’ requests are a starting 7% annual pay increase for the first two years of the contract and a 6.25% increase for years three and four, in addition to a standard $25 per hour minimum wage. Kaiser’s offer includes a 3.5-4% starting pay increase, a $21 minimum wage for non-California workers and a $23 minimum wage for California staff. 

Kaiser spokesperson Hilary Costa said in a statement, “We will coordinate with Coalition leaders to reconvene bargaining as soon as possible. We will work hard to reach an agreement so that together, we can all return to delivering on the mission of Kaiser Permanente for the benefit of our members, patients, employees, physicians, customers, and communities.”

“Kaiser executives are not bargaining in good faith over solutions to the short staffing crisis,” said Sarah Levesque, OPEIU Local 2’s Secretary-Treasurer. Workers’ main concerns surround limited staffing since the pandemic, patient care and a need for inflation-adjusted compensation.

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