1,430 Kaiser Pharmacists Prepare To Strike Over Pension Benefits
Kaiser Permanente pharmacies across Southern California could close on Monday as about 1,430 pharmacists prepare to go on strike over pension benefits, the San Bernardino Sun reports (Steinberg, San Bernardino Sun, 5/14).
Details of Pension Issue
According to the Orange County Register, Kaiser pharmacists' pensions were cut three years ago, and they were told that other employee groups also would lose their pensions (Wolfson, Orange County Register, 5/14). However, no other groups' pensions were cut, according to the Sun.
Robin Borden, an official with the Guild for Professional Pharmacists, said, "We trustingly took the deal and gave away the pension for higher wages. Now three years have gone by and everyone else still has their pension." Borden added, "We believe we were misled and pharmacists want their pension back."
Borden noted that pharmacists "have offered to give up a percentage of their salary in return" for restored benefits (San Bernardino Sun, 5/14).
The pharmacists also are calling for:
- Changes in work procedures that they say compromise patient safety; and
- Guaranteed health benefits for part-time employees.
Some pharmacists say Kaiser's demand for speed in filling prescriptions can compromise patient safety. For instance, some say they have been encouraged to bypass a computer screen that displays drug interactions in order to fill prescriptions more quickly.
Borden said, "Pharmacists should not be bypassing those screens," adding, "They are asking us to process orders faster in order to make the waiting time lower. It's stressing pharmacists out, and they are more likely to make errors."
Details of Negotiations
Kaiser and the guild held talks on Wednesday, and another session is scheduled for Friday.
Borden said, "We're hopeful we'll come to a resolution, but we're very firm on our demands," adding, "[I]f no resolution is reached, the strike will ensue" at all Kaiser hospitals beginning Monday.
A Kaiser spokesperson said, "We must balance the desires of the pharmacists with the need to keep health care affordable for our members," adding, "We remain hopeful that we can reach a fair and equitable agreement that will bring our valued pharmacists back to the pharmacies."
There is no planned end date for the strike, which could affect about 3.7 million Kaiser beneficiaries.
On Tuesday, Kaiser sent notices to its members to notify them of the potential strike.
If a strike does happen, Kaiser said that all of its hospitals will remain open and no appointments will be canceled. However, Kaiser encouraged patients to fill prescriptions before Monday.
In addition, Kaiser said it has made agreements with seven outside pharmacies to provide patient services if a strike occurs, including:
- Rite Aid;
- Walgreen; and
- Wal-Mart Stores (Orange County Register, 5/14).
However, pharmacists from outside companies would not be able to receive patients' medical records when prescribing medication, which could result in dangerous combinations of drugs for some patients, according to the Sun (San Bernardino Sun, 5/14).
A Kaiser spokesperson said patient safety is a "top priority" (Orange County Register, 5/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.