Summer may be on its last legs, but California’s hot labor summer certainly isn’t.
It’s been an exceptionally busy few months for labor actions in the Golden State, with dozens of strikes since May across a wide range of occupations, including housekeepers, Los Angeles city workers, McDonalds employees and dockworkers. The walkouts by tens of thousands of Hollywood actors and writers — together, the nation’s biggest strike in years — are still going strong.
And soon the list could get even bigger.
A coalition of a dozen local unions representing 85,000 pharmacists, nursing assistants, occupational therapists and other Kaiser Permanente employees have begun voting on whether to authorize a strike, as their current contract approaches its expiration at the end of September. Though the workers are in several states, the great majority (78 percent) are in California, according to coalition data.
Union leaders are calling for higher wages, and they have said that a staffing shortage at Kaiser hospitals and clinics is making it impossible to provide adequate care to patients.
“Kaiser is facing chronic understaffing, because workers can’t afford to live in L.A. on the low wages they pay us,” Miriam de la Paz, a unit secretary who works at Kaiser Permanente in Downey, said in a statement.
If all 85,000 workers covered by the contract were to walk out, it would be the largest strike by health care workers in U.S. history, according to the coalition. The soonest a strike would happen is Oct. 1.
On Labor Day, the union that represents most of the workers, S.E.I.U.-United Healthcare Workers West, organized a demonstration outside of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in Hollywood to highlight its call for improved working conditions, officials said. In a planned act of civil disobedience, protesters sat in the middle of Sunset Boulevard, and 25 of them were arrested by the police, LAist reported.
Kaiser Permanente said in a statement that it was confident that an agreement would be reached before the current contract expired, and that the strike authorization vote “does not reflect any breakdown in bargaining, nor does it indicate a strike is imminent or will happen at all.”
“It is a disappointing action, considering our progress at the bargaining table,” the statement added.
Labor actions are surging across the country: More workers were on strike in the United States in July than at any time since at least January 2021, according to the Cornell-ILR Labor Action Tracker. There were 205,000 U.S. workers on strike in July, the tracker says; a year earlier there were just 8,000.
“Strike activity has very much been driven by workers in Southern California,” Johnnie Kallas, who runs Cornell’s tracker, said. “There seems to me to be an intimate connection between these strikes and the really high cost of living in the L.A. area.”
As my colleagues have reported, 2023 has brought an unprecedented level of cross-sector solidarity among unions in Los Angeles. The high cost of living and growing income inequality in Southern California appear to have fostered common ground among millions of residents.
Kallas said it was difficult to estimate exactly how many workers in California had gone on strike since May, because many of the actions involved unions with members in other states. Roughly 37,000 workers have walked out in California-only strikes that began on or after May 1, he said, but the bulk of the striking workers in the state are among the roughly 171,000 writers and actors who are striking against the film studios.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Bill Hildebrand, who recommends Northern California’s remote and rugged coastline:
“The Lost Coast is an amazing place too few people experience. About four hours north of San Francisco on Highway 101, it is home to pristine redwood forests, crystalline rivers and gorgeous, rugged beaches. Imagine Big Sur without the tourists. Take your time and see charming small towns and beautiful beaches at Point Reyes, Mendocino, and Ft. Bragg along the way.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
Recent shifts in how we gather and spend our free time have affected how frequently we socialize. But our desire to be together and the need for human connection remains unchanged. Tell us about how you gather.
And before you go, some good news
A new photography exhibition at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles explores the stories of Black Americans who settled on the California coast in the early 1900s, and how their creation of vibrant, recreational spaces challenged the white supremacy of the day.
On display is a trove of archival photographs, collected by the historian Alison Rose Jefferson, depicting Black beachside communities throughout the Jim Crow era partaking in moments of leisure, recreation and joy.