Kaiser Braces for Historic Walkout

One-day strike by health care workers could be one of the largest ever seen.

Tuesday could be an especially poor day to be sick in California.

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente health care workers are planning to walk off the job at hospitals up and down the state. 

The move is an echo of a similar strike staged last September to register unhappiness with contract negotiations.

But Tuesday's walkout could be one of the biggest ever to hit Kaiser. 

That's because the National Union of Healthcare Workers will be joined by two other unions, the California Nurses Association and Stationary Engineers Local 39. Altogether, the three unions represent well over 20,000 workers.

Kaiser plans to keep its hospitals and clinics open with replacement personnel, but the walkout is sure to harden feelings between the health care giant and the powerful California Nurses Association.  The company filed a lawsuit in federal court last fall, after the last strike, alleging that the nurses had violated no-strike language in their contract.

The nurses have an existing contract that runs through 2014.

NUHW, which represents psychologists, mental health workers. optometrists, and others, is staging the walkout to publicize unhappiness with proposed cuts to health care and retirement benefits, and reduce staffing for mental health services.

Kaiser officials have said they are "disappointed" in the decision to stage a strike, and that they continue to negotiate as part of marathon talks that began in 2010.

This is not "occupy", but a different kind of street theater. Patients are sure to have their patience tried on Tuesday, as they can expect noisy picket lines.

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