Thirteen Health Care Workers Arrested At Labor Day Kaiser Protest

Thirteen union activists marked Labor Day by getting peacefully arrested to protest plans by Kaiser Permanente to reduce staffing, which the giant health-care chain says is necessary to contain costs.

Workers linked hands and sat down on pavement near Imperial Highway at Bellflower Boulevard in front of the Kaiser Permanente in Downey, at 9333 E. Imperial Highway.

The protest march began at 10:30 a.m. and ended peacefully around noon, according to Downey Police Sgt. Maria Villegas.

Police said they made 13 arrests but would not provide details.

Westbound Imperial Highway was closed at Bellflower Boulevard much of the day, as the planned confrontation unfolded.

Unionized health care workers have been protesting since May at Kaiser Permanente facilities across the state, including in Harbor City, Baldwin Park and West Los Angeles.

"Kaiser is raking in money and yet it's acting like it has no choice but to outsource jobs, relocate workers and pay new employees less," union member Lanette Griffin said in a statement released by Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West last spring.

"It makes no sense because Kaiser Permanente is a nonprofit organization and it is supposed to be putting the community's interests first."

The union has accused Kaiser of boosting its bottom line while making cuts that could hurt patient care. It says that the hospital plans to lay off pharmacy warehouse workers in Downey and make further staff cuts at other warehouses while relocating call center jobs in Los Angeles, Baldwin Park and Woodland Hills to other areas where workers will earn less.

"We are disappointed that the current leadership of SEIU-UHW has chosen to mischaracterize Kaiser Permanente's strong commitment to labor and to pursue an adversarial, destructive approach to its relationships with several California health care systems," John Nelson, vice president of communications for Kaiser Permanente, said in a statement Monday.

"...The union's claims that we have announced hundreds of layoffs or relocations at our call centers is simply not true," Nelson continued. "We have talked with the union about ways to significantly improve our appointment call center operations in Southern California, and to do so thoughtfully and over time to minimize the chance that any current employee would be forced to lose their job."

Nelson also addressed the pharmacy layoffs.

"We've been working with SEIU-UHW for more than a year to transition our internal pharmacy warehouse operations to an existing, proven service provided by UPS Supply Chain Solutions," he said. "This change, which may affect up to 200 jobs across the state, is needed to address the many regulatory, technical and efficiency challenges we face now and in the future. What's important is that we never make decisions like this lightly. We don't know of any other employer who offers more generous support to employees who are affected by job changes: We try to retrain and reassign our people first, and if that isn't feasible, we provide them up to one year of salary and benefits."

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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