VIDEO: Union Workers Seek Job Security in Maui Strike at Kaiser
By Wendy Osher
Kaiser workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 5 conducted a limited duration strike on Thursday at the Maui Lani and Wailuku Clinics, in an effort to prevent jobs from being subcontracted to out of state workers. The one-day strike was organized to draw attention to ongoing contract negotiations and demands for job security.
[flashvideo file=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mojrYvkVgb8 /] “Today is a limited one day strike,” said Mercy Manangan, an employee in the Occupational Health Department. “What we’re doing at this time is trying to get the message across that we need to keep good jobs here in our community and the state of Hawaii,” said Manangan.
“Times are hard, yes. I’m a mother, I have children, but I’m sacrificing today to just send the message to everyone in the community that we are here to stand for what is right to keep our jobs here in Hawaii and not send them out to the mainland or some kind of foreign country so that people can save money,” said LPN, Georgie Astronomo.
“Many of us have put many years into this company,” said Mona Kaai, a medical assistant at the Kaiser Wailuku Clinic. “We don’t want to see our family members moving away because jobs are not available here in Hawaii. We need to maintain our jobs. We need to sustain Hawaii’s economy, and that’s why we’re here,” she said.
The workers walking the picket line included many blue collar service employees that ranged from medical assistants to receptionists, accountants, and maintenance staff.
“There’s no one particular department. It can happen to all of us, and so that’s the reason we are taking a stand today,” said Momi Hai, a lead front desk employee with the Business Services department. “Like I said, all of us employees, we love our jobs, we love our patients, and we want to keep good local jobs in our community in the state of Hawaii,” she said.
Local 5 officials say the walkout is part of a larger effort to secure a new contract for about 1,800 health care workers on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. Meantime, Kaiser Permanente remained open during the picket with plans to pursue business with uninterrupted service.
“We continue to bargain in good faith,” said Suzann Filleul, the Regional Executive Nurse for Kaiser Hawaii. “We resolved many issues. We’ve been able to offer our Local 5 employees wage and benefit enhancements that will keep them at the top of the Hawaii health care market,” Filleul said.
In recent months, Kaiser Permanente asked a federal mediator to join the contract talks in an effort to accelerate goals of reaching a settlement.
“Actually, in 2009, we’ve worked really hard to preserve jobs here in Hawaii, and we‘ve been very successful with that. We’ve done that by focusing on quality and service. And in 2010, we’re already growing our business and as we grow business, we’ll be able to grow jobs,” said Filleul.
Kaiser officials say their plan to establish a new dialysis center on Maui is one example of how the organization is working to lower healthcare costs, increase quality of care and promote job growth. While today’s strike was specific to Maui, fellow union members on other islands are covered under the same contract.
“Our counterparts over on Oahu are supporting us by wearing red today, which is our union color, and we also saw that some of our nurses that are working today are also supporting us inside today by using their red t-shirts,” said Manangan.
“We want Kaiser to know that we’re here not only for ourselves, but for our patients and to keep our community strong,” said Kaai. “In these tough economic times, we need to sustain our economy by maintaining our jobs and we want our employer to know that,” she said.
Kaiser Permanente employs 388 people on the Valley Isle, serving an estimated 50,000 people at four separate Maui clinics.
While both sides expressed commitment to serve patient needs, union members remained hopeful that their walkout would send a message about job security amid the island’s down economy.
“I’ve been here 10 years and I love my job, and I intend to stay here for a good long time to take care of our patients,” said Kaai.
Union and Hospital officials have been working to resolve contract issues for several months. Still without a settlement in hand, union members planned to return to work following the one-day walk out.