Thousands of US healthcare workers vote to strike if contract talks fail

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Sticking points in negotiations appeared to be staffing levels and wages for nurses and others who have been on the front line of the pandemic. …reports Asian Lite News

Thousands of health care workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities in US states Oregon and California given a green light Monday for union officials to call strikes should contract talks fail.

Sticking points in negotiations appeared to be staffing levels and wages for nurses and others who have been on the front line of the pandemic.

“Health care workers are facing record levels of burnout after 20 months of the Covid pandemic,” said Michael Barnett, president of the United Steelworkers local in Southern California.

Some 31,000 of the group’s members who work at Southern California Kaiser Permanente locations voted by an overwhelming majority to authorize union leaders to call a strike, according to a USW release.

The USW along with the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals represent the workers.

Nearly 3,400 workers at the major US provider’s facilities in Oregon have also voted by a large majority to strike, according to the Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals there.

“This is an unprecedented strike authorization vote, showing total unity amongst Kaiser workers to stage a strike over issues like safe staffing, patient care, and a fair contract,” the federation said.

With strikes authorized, elected union leaders can tell workers to walk out at any time, but must provide 10-day notice to Kaiser.

The Oregon federation of nurses said it was part of a 21-union alliance of health care workers, many of which have also authorized strikes and could walk out as well.

“We urge Kaiser Permanente management to come to the table and bargain a fair contract that addresses chronic understaffing and safety issues rather than forcing workers into a labor dispute by insisting on dangerous cost-cutting measures,” Barnett said in a release.

Health experts warn of ‘twindemic’

Health experts in the US have warned against what they called a “twindemic” of Covid-19 and flu this coming winter season, according to a news report.

Millions of American children get sick with the flu every year and tens of thousands are hospitalised with respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.

Research being presented at an American Academy of Pediatrics conference showed that pandemic precautions, like wearing masks and social distancing, helped stop the spread of flu and other common respiratory viruses last season, according to the report.

“Although each of these things is not perfect, taken together, they really are effective in preventing illness,” CBS News quoted William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, as saying.

Last week, The Washington Post had reported that health officials are urging Americans to get their flu shots, warning that the flu season that did not materialise when most of society was shut down last year could come roaring back and strain hospitals in the months ahead.

Survey data released last week found that slightly more than half of American adults plan to be vaccinated against influenza.

That’s not much of a change from pre-pandemic surveys conducted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“This low flu activity was likely due to the widespread implementation of Covid-19 preventive measures like masks, physical distancing and staying home,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing on October 7 announcing flu vaccination efforts.

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