The atmosphere was loud and festive on day two of the three-day Kaiser workers strike. Hundreds of employees of Kaiser’s Santa Clara facility gathered at the corner of Homestead Road and Lawrence Expressway to draw attention to their demands.
A DJ played upbeat music for the striking workers who danced and cheered every time a car horn honked in support. When a City of Sunnyvale truck rolled by honking its horn, the cheers grew louder.
Grant Hill, a union representative and organizer of the Engineers and Scientists of California (ESC) Local 20, IFPTE says solidarity like that is important. While Kaiser’s engineers and scientists are not part of the current contract talks, they showed up at the strike in support.
“Solidarity between unions is something important. It’s something that I think the labor movement has lost over the last few decades, but I think we’re getting back,” said Hill. “It’s important to fight for fair wages for everybody. Fair treatment. Short staffing and long wait times are a huge issue at Kaiser. You’ll hear that from anybody. So, we’re out here with our brothers and sisters.”
“We’re fighting for the greater good of all of us and our patients. It’s truly about patients and the lack of staffing,” said one member of the ESC IFPTE Local 20 who asked not to be named.
The strike is part of a nationwide effort by Kaiser employees to draw attention to staffing issues at Kaiser hospitals. Approximately 75,000 medical workers nationwide started a three-day strike on Wednesday. According to Reuters, it is the largest walkout ever in the U.S. healthcare sector.
The problem hits close to home for Seema Patel, a medical social worker at Kaiser Santa Clara.
“My father was actually in the ER yesterday and he’s been in the ER three times over the last month,” said Patel. “The first time he came in, they were so understaffed his call light was left on for 20-plus minutes.
“As a worker that works in the same facility, I felt horrible,” Patel continued. “Number one for being angry that my father’s needs aren’t met because he’s the patient. And number two, it was almost like I feel bad for being angry because I know how this feels. These are my coworkers and we don’t have enough staff.”
Patel says staffing is not a new issue and the problem was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
“It definitely had a domino effect on the short-staffing crisis because, before the pandemic, we were short-staffed,” said Patel. “Usually frontline workers are telling managers and Kaiser executives, ‘Hey, we need help. We need help.’ The pandemic just kind of amplified it and made it noticeable to the rest of the world.”
Patel says once the pandemic passed, things just got worse.
“A lot of my coworkers honestly, quit because they were burnt out mentally, emotionally, physically,” said Patel. “A lot of my coworkers were hurt. So, they don’t want to be here doing what we all should or could be doing because we’re burnt out.”