SACRAMENTO, the United States, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) — Holding signs and ringing handbells, tens of thousands of healthcare workers took to the picket lines on Wednesday at hundreds of hospitals across the United States, seeking better pay and benefits through what is called the largest healthcare worker strike in U.S. history.
More than 75,000 employees of Kaiser Permanente, a leading nonprofit health provider in the country, walked off the job Wednesday morning after their unions and the healthcare giant failed to reach a new contract agreement on Tuesday.
The strikes will run through Saturday at dozens of locations across the states of California, Colorado, Washington, Virginia, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.
California, where Kaiser is based, will be the most affected by the work stoppage, as more than 68,000 of the participating workers are in the state.
Outside a Kaiser facility in Sacramento, California, hundreds of employees and their family members rallied and held signs that read “Kaiser workers won’t be silenced” and “Respect and value healthcare workers.” Media footages showed similar scenes in other cities like Los Angeles and Irvine.
The workers on strike include nurses, X-ray and lab technicians, medical assistants, pharmacists and others. They are represented by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, a coalition of their local unions.
The previous four-year contract expired on Sept. 30. Union leaders are demanding long-term investments to address a staffing shortage in addition to better pay and benefits.
They ask for across-the-board pay increases of 6.5 percent in the first two years and 5.75 percent in the two years after, but Kaiser offers 3 percent for each year, according to the union coalition’s update on Sept. 30.
The union coalition said frontline healthcare workers are “burnt out and stretched to maximum” while the staffing crisis has led to “unsafe working conditions and deteriorating care for patients.”
In the videos posted at the coalition’s website, Kaiser employees said due to short staffing patients had to stay in hospital longer and they were burnt out by long working hours. Those paid at less than 25 U.S. dollars an hour complained that their wages couldn’t make ends meet and the inflation added to their financial stress.
The union coalition accused Kaiser executives of continuing to “bargain in bad faith” despite the organization reporting more than 3 billion dollars in profits in the first half of this year.
The three-day strike will be “the initial demonstration of our strength,” said the coalition in a statement. The workers are prepared for “another longer, stronger strike” next month when additional members in Washington state can join the strike with their contract expiring on Oct. 31, it said.
The work stoppages could cause delays for patients in getting medical appointments, lab results and prescriptions. Non-urgent procedures might be postponed, and some clinic hours might be reduced, warned Kaiser. But hospitals and emergency departments would remain open during the strike, staffed by doctors, managers and other non-union “contingency workers,” it said.
Kaiser said negotiations are continuing and that it is committed to a fair and equitable agreement. It acknowledged the stress of healthcare workers, saying in a statement that more than 5 million people have left their healthcare jobs and burnout is at a record high in the United States.
The healthcare industry has been particularly affected by rising strike activity. Early this year, more than 7,000 nurses at two major New York City hospitals went on strike, complaining that staffing shortages led to burnout.
This year has seen elevated labor activity in the United States. More than 300,000 workers had been involved in work stoppages through August this year, according to data of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In recent months, several large-scale strikes have paralyzed companies in numerous fields, including the automobile and entertainment industries.
More than 25,000 members of the United Auto Workers are on strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. It’s the first time the union has struck all three simultaneously.
This summer, Hollywood’s writers’ union and actors’ union went on strike at the same time for the first time since 1960. The writers’ union reached a tentative agreement with Hollywood studios last month, after they secured a pay increase and improved benefits. The actors’ guild strike is going on.
Israel under heat after over 100 were killed while seeking aid in Gaza
Israel has drawn heat from the international community after more than 100 people were killed as they waited for an aid delivery in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, an incident that Palestinian health authorities blamed on Israeli forces but was attributed by Israel to crowds that surrounded the air trucks.
Shots were fired as hundreds of people gathered around an aid convoy coordinated by Israel to send relief to the Palestinians in Gaza, who are undergoing a humanitarian disaster owning to Israel’s months-old bombardment of the coastal enclave since Hamas’ deadly rampage in southern Israel on October 7.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was an “ugly massacre” by Israel, and France condemned “unjustifiable Israeli fire” in the scramble for food aid.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office also issued a statement denouncing the incident, without assigning blame.
At least 112 people were killed and more than 280 wounded in the incident near Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said.
Israel said it was not to blame for the “unfortunate” event. One Israeli official said there had been two incidents, hundreds of meters apart. In the first, dozens were killed or injured as they tried to take aid from the trucks and were trampled or run over, according to the official.
He said there was a second, subsequent incident as the trucks moved off. Some people in the crowd approached troops who felt under threat and opened fire, killing an unknown number in a “limited response,” he said. He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.
In a rebuttal to the Israeli account, Hamas said the Gaza health ministry had presented “undeniable” evidence of “direct firing at citizens, including headshots aimed at immediate killing, in addition to the testimonies of all witnesses who confirmed being targeted with direct fire without posing any threat to the occupying army.”
Jordan’s foreign ministry, in a statement following the incident, reiterated its condemnation of Israel’s persistent aggression and said its brutal targeting of civilians was a blatant violation of international law.
The Turkish foreign ministry said “Israel has added another crime to its crimes against humanity.”
Hamas said the incident could jeopardize talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages it is holding. When asked if he thought it would complicate the talks, U.S. President Joe Biden said: “I know it will.”
The U.S. State Department said it was urgently seeking information on the incident, as did the French foreign ministry.
The incident has added more strains to health facilities that are already on the brink of collapse in Gaza. Medics said they could not cope with the flood of serious injuries, which came as the death toll in nearly five months of war passed 30,000, according to Palestinian health authorities.
In a statement on Thursday, UN human rights chief Volker Turk said war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, calling for them to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable.
Gaza death toll nears 30,000 as truce talks underway
Fighting raged on Wednesday in the besieged Gaza Strip, where the reported death toll neared 30,000 as mediators insisted a truce in the Israel-Hamas conflict could be just days away.
The Hamas-ruled territory’s Health Ministry reported another 91 deaths in overnight Israeli bombardment in Gaza, bringing the total death toll to at least 29,954, mostly women and children.
Meanwhile, UN agencies sounded the alarm on dire humanitarian conditions and food shortages.
On Tuesday, the UN humanitarian agency – the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – said a quarter of people in Gaza were one step away from famine, warning that such a disaster would be “almost inevitable” without action.
The OCHA told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that relief agencies face “overwhelming obstacles” including restrictions on movement, crossing closures, access denials and onerous vetting procedures, though Israel said there is no limit to the amount of humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.
Rare aid deliveries into northern Gaza have been chaotic, with convoys of trucks often mobbed by desperate people as they arrive.
Most aid trucks have been halted, but foreign militaries have air dropped supplies over southern Gaza.
Some 160 packages of food and medical equipment have been airdropped into the southern Gaza Strip and the Jordanian field hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza.
The U.S. is considering airdropping aid from U.S. military planes into Gaza as land deliveries become increasingly difficult, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
Truce talk underway
Mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the U.S. have been trying to find a path to a ceasefire amid the bitter fighting, seeking a six-week pause in the nearly five-month conflict.
After a flurry of diplomacy, mediators said a deal could finally be within reach – reportedly including the release of some Israeli hostages held in Gaza since Hamas’ October 7 attack in exchange for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
Hamas had been pushing for the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza – a demand rejected outright by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But a Hamas source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the deal might see the Israeli military leave “cities and populated areas,” allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.
Doha has suggested the pause in fighting would come before the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month which starts on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
Hamas called on Wednesday for Palestinians to march to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque at the start of Ramadan, raising the stakes in ongoing negotiations for a truce in Gaza.
Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem’s old city, one of the world’s holiest sites for Muslims and the most sacred for Jews, has long been a flashpoint for potential violence, particularly during religious holidays.
With fighting raging in Gaza, Israel has said it may set limits to worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan, according to its security needs. Many Palestinians reject any such restrictions on their access to the site.
“This is a call on our people in Jerusalem and the West Bank to march to Al-Aqsa since the first day of Ramadan,” said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Israeli government spokesperson Tal Heirich described Haniyeh’s remarks as “very unfortunate” and accused him of trying to drag both Israel and Hamas to conflicts on other fronts.
One quarter of Gazans one step away from famine amid uncertain truce talks
At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip – one quarter of the population – are one step away from famine, a senior UN aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.
“Very little will be possible while hostilities continue and while there is a risk that they will spread into the overcrowded areas in the south of Gaza. We therefore reiterate our call for a ceasefire,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, coordination director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
One in six children under age 2 in northern Gaza suffers from acute malnutrition and practically all the 2.3 million people in the Palestinian enclave rely on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive, he told the Security Council.
Rajasingham said the UN and aid groups face “overwhelming obstacles just to get a bare minimum of supplies into Gaza.” These include crossing closures, restrictions on movement and communication, onerous vetting procedures, unrest, damaged roads and unexploded ordnance, he said.
Jens Laerke, spokesman for OCHA, also said on Tuesday that Israeli forces are “systematically” blocking access to Gaza.
All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied by Israeli authorities in recent weeks. The last allowed in was on January 23, according to the World Health Organization.
However, Israeli deputy ambassador to the UN Jonathan Miller countered that “it is not Israel who is holding up these trucks,” instead placing the blame on the UN, which he said must distribute aid “more effectively.”
“There is no limit to the amount of humanitarian aid that can be sent to the civilian population of Gaza,” he said, adding that since the beginning of 2024 Israel had only denied 16 percent of requests to deliver aid, and those were due to risks the shipments could end up in Hamas’ hands.
Cautious over truce talks
Israel and Hamas as well as Qatari mediators all sounded notes of caution on Tuesday about progress towards a truce in Gaza, after U.S. President Joe Biden said he believed a ceasefire could be reached in under a week to halt the conflict for Ramadan.
Two senior Hamas officials told Reuters that Biden’s remarks seemed premature. There are “still big gaps to be bridged,” one of them said.
Hamas is weighing a proposal, agreed by Israel at talks with mediators in Paris last week, for a 40-day ceasefire, which would be the first extended truce of the five-month-old conflict. Both sides have delegations in Qatar this week hammering out details.
According to a source close to the ceasefire talks, the Paris proposal would see militants free some but not all of the hostages in return for Israel’s release of hundreds of Palestinian detainees, a surge in humanitarian aid for Gaza and Israeli troops pulling out of populated areas in the enclave.
But it appears to stop short of satisfying Hamas’ main demand that any agreement include a clear path towards a permanent end to the war and Israeli withdrawal, or resolving the fate of fighting-age Israeli men among the hostages.
Earlier, Israeli government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said any deal for a ceasefire in Gaza would still require Hamas to drop “outlandish demands.” She added: “We are willing. But the question remains whether Hamas are willing.”
Qatar, which has acted as the main mediator, said a breakthrough had yet to be reached.
“We don’t have a final agreement on any of the issues that are hampering reaching an agreement,” said Majed Al Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry. “We remain hopeful that we can get to some kind of agreement.”
Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on October 7, according to Israeli tallies, triggering Israel’s ground assault on Gaza. Health authorities in the enclave say nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed killed.
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