Kaiser pharmacists in Southern California to strike on Thursday

April 19, 2011

Kaiser Permanente pharmacists in Southern California have called their first strike in more than 30 years. Some 1,300 inpatient and outpatient pharmacists at 13 medical centers and 145 medical offices serving nearly 3.3 million patients voted to walk off the job Thursday and Friday, April 21 and 22. The current contract expired on March 31.

Kaiser Permanente pharmacists in Southern California have called their first strike in more than 30 years. Some 1,300 inpatient and outpatient pharmacists at 13 medical centers and 145 medical offices serving nearly 3.3 million patients voted to walk off the job Thursday and Friday, April 21 and 22. The current contract expired on March 31.

“We have been bargaining with Kaiser over the past 2 months and they dumped 25 pages of take-backs on the table the last day,” said Ralph Vogel, PharmD, president of the Guild for Professional Pharmacists, which represents Kaiser pharmacists across California. “If they had put those proposals on the table the first day, we could have an agreement worked out by now. Instead, pharmacists voted 97% in favor of a strike.”

Dr. Vogel said Kaiser proposed drastic reductions in benefits following recent guarantees to other employee that benefits would not be reduced. Proposals include an increase in health benefit costs, discontinuation of the existing defined benefit retirement plan, elimination of extended sick leave applied to retirement calculations, and elimination of post-retirement medical coverage. Kaiser also proposed an immediate wage freeze with a 1% increase in 6 months.

The Guild filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations over what Dr. Vogel called Kaiser’s failure to bargain in good faith.

“We are in bargaining with the union,” said Kaiser spokesman Jim Thompson. “We are hoping to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable to everyone. We will be welcoming the pharmacists back to work on Saturday. They are very valuable and important members of our healthcare team.”

Neither Dr. Vogel nor Thompson are sure when Kaiser pharmacists last walked off the job. Both say it was at least 30 years ago.

“Events can change in the next 2 days,” Thompson told Drug Topics at deadline. “The strike is scheduled and we have made contingency plans. Our outpatient pharmacies will be closed on Thursday and Friday. Management pharmacists will be providing services in our hospitals.”

Kaiser has also made arrangements with a major drug chain to fill prescriptions as needed during the strike. The union asked pharmacists to decline overtime on Saturday.

Dr. Vogel said bargaining would resume after the 2-day walkout. If appropriate progress is not made, he said pharmacists could vote for another, longer work stoppage. Pharmacists could also join forces for a joint strike with registered nurses who staged a 1-day strike in March.