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With a 96% vote of Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals union members, its leaders can now call for a strike at any time.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: KOIN 6 NEWS - Outside of Kaiser Permanente buildings.Some health care workers with Kaiser Permanente have voted to authorize a strike, according to officials.

Represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals union, nearly 3,400 nurses and healthcare employees from Kaiser Permanente voted to authorize a strike. The participation rate was a staggering 90% — with 96% of those participants voting yes.

Officials say this is an unprecedented authorization.

"Our members turned out in record numbers to say that they are willing to do what it takes to save patient care in Oregon," Kaiser Sunnyside RN and President of the OFNHP Jodi Barschow said. "Kaiser's proposals would be a disaster for Oregon's entire care system and show a profound disrespect for the frontline healthcare workers who are risking their lives during COVID."

With this authorization, union leaders can now call for a strike at any time. Once that strike is initiated, they will give Kaiser Permanente a 10-day advance notice. After those ten days, they say workers will walk off the job.

According to OFNHP, Kaiser refused a routine 30-day contract extension before that contract expired on September 30.

"The union is urging Kaiser to change their confrontational behavior in contract negotiations in order to avert a strike," OFNHP said in a press release. "These workers have been clear that once Kaiser puts forward a proposal that does not endanger the community, then they will reach an agreement."

KOIN 6 News reached out to KP following the authorization. They issued the following statement:

"At Kaiser Permanente, we are proud to be one of the most unionized health care organizations in the country. Our history and our future are deeply connected to organized labor and labor unions have always played an important role in our efforts to give more people access to high-quality care and make care more affordable. We remain committed to working together with labor for our workforce, members and communities that rely on us.

We understand that Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (ONFHP) completed a strike authorization vote. A strike authorization does not automatically trigger a strike. Unions are required to provide us with a 10-day notification before any work stoppage could commence.

We strongly believe that differences in bargaining are best worked out at the bargaining table, and we have a 24-year history of union partnership which proves that point.

We will continue to work collaboratively with OFNHP to reach an agreement that meets the interests of both parties.

Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.

We are extremely grateful for our frontline health care employees, whose commitment to providing care and service throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring."

This potential strike comes as hospitals across the country are scrambling for nurses and other healthcare professionals. Hospitals in Portland are no exception — with Kaiser employees saying their top concern is the organization's lack of safe staffing.

According to the Kaiser staff represented by the OFNHP, the company's current proposals would "accelerate the already devastating staffing crisis," which they say would put patients at risk.

"Striking is always our last resort, but Kaiser seems determined to push forward proposals that would hurt staff, patients, and our entire public health system," Barschow recently said. "Kaiser needs to do the right thing and put our patients before profits."

According to OFNHP, 42.2% of the nurses recently surveyed said that they are "considering leaving the field entirely over the treatment they have received at Kaiser." Over 60% reportedly said they are considering leaving the company and nearly 60% are considering leaving their specific department.

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.

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