Los Angeles-area Kaiser Permanente employees began a three-day strike today to protest proposed benefit cuts and what they describe as a lack of progress on contract talks.

About 2,500 members of National Union of Healthcare Workers in Southern California were expected to walk consolidated picket lines on Wednesday as part of a larger work action affecting roughly 300 Kaiser hospitals and clinics in California. The union on the first day of the work action targeted three Southern California locations: the main Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center on Sunset Boulevard, Kaiser Fontana Medical Center and Kaiser San Diego Medical Center.

On Thursday, they are scheduled be joined by about 1,500 NUHW members in Northern California, as well as 17,000 registered nurses of the California Nurses Association and 2,000 stationary engineers who operate hospital facility equipment. The nurses and engineers would strike in sympathy with NUHW.

The union, which represents 1,700 workers in Los Angeles County, said Kaiser wants to reduce retirement benefits and health care coverage. Employees are being asked to pay higher health premiums and co-payments, said the union, which also claims that there is chronic staff shortages at some facilities.

“NUHW members all over California are fed up with Kaiser's refusal to bargain with our union in good faith, its failure to guarantee the staffing necessary for safe and timely access to care, and its insistence on implementing cuts to the benefits of NUHW caregivers that have no economic justification whatsoever,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in a statement.

Kaiser, which has 6.5 million health plan members in California, said in an email sent to plan members last night that it continues to bargain in good faith and would try to minimize the impact of the strike on patients while keeping hospitals open. Hospitals are rescheduling appointments and elective procedures that involve therapists, health educators, dietitians, speech pathologists, audiologists, social workers and other striking workers.

“While we recognize the NUHW’s legal right to conduct a strike, we believe the bargaining process is the best way to resolve our differences,” Kaiser said.

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