SAN DIEGO -- Unionized health care workers began a 24-hour strike in San Diego Tuesday as part of a work stoppage at 160 Kaiser Permanente facilities statewide.
Walkouts involved about 80 Kaiser Permanente facilities in Southern California, including the medical center at 4647 Zion Ave. in San Diego's Allied Gardens neighborhood, said Leighton Woodhouse, a spokesman for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which is organizing the strike.
The union represents 200 of Kaiser's 8,000 employees in San Diego, including audiologists, dieticians, health educators, social workers, speech pathologists and mental health therapists.
Kaiser issued a statement saying it was implementing "comprehensive contingency plans'' to ensure continued care and patient safety and that all facilities would remain open during any work stoppage.
"We recognize the NUHW's legal right to conduct a strike, but we believe the bargaining table is the best place to resolve differences, and regardless of any strike activity, we continue to seek meaningful dialogue and negotiate in good faith; we hope to reach an agreement soon,'' according to Kaiser.
The union said the walkouts are in response to Kaiser's proposal to cut health care and retirement benefits for thousands of NUHW members that the nonprofit HMO employs statewide, including about 2,500 in Southern California.
The NUHW is also unhappy with what union officials contend are chronic staffing deficiencies at Kaiser facilities and excessive compensation packages given to top executives at a time when Kaiser has imposed rate increases on hundreds of thousands of California policyholders.
The NUHW, which has 4,000 members employed by Kaiser statewide, staged similar walkouts at Kaiser facilities last September.
According to the union, another 17,000 registered nurses with the California Nurses Association and another 650 members of the Stationary Engineers Local 39, all in Northern California, would be picketing at Kaiser medical centers in sympathy with the NUHW.
The NUHW gave Kaiser 10 days notice of the job action, Woodhouse said, allowing the company to make arrangements to mitigate patient risk.
"That said, it's not going to be business as usual in these facilities. The strike is going to be disruptive,'' he said.
The walkout was scheduled to end Wednesday at 6 a.m.