More than 75,000 employees at Kaiser Permanente began one of the largest healthcare worker strikes in recent US history on Wednesday after failing to resolve a dispute over staffing levels.
The walkout at America's largest non-profit healthcare organisation comes during a year in which an inflation surge has spurred strikes for higher pay across the US, from Hollywood to Detroit.
The strike by union members at Kaiser Permanente began early on Wednesday at sites in Virginia and the US capital of Washington.
It is due to spread to the West Coast later in the day, where the vast majority of the company's workforce is based.
Kaiser said it has put in place contingency plans to limit the impact of the strike, but warned customers to expect “longer than usual” wait times, according to a statement posted on its website.
The three-day walkout will be “the largest healthcare worker strike in US history”, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, an umbrella group representing local unions, said last month.
The union is pushing for pay increases across the board, and protections against subcontracting and outsourcing of labour, among other demands, recent statements from the coalition have said.
It has threatened to engage in further strike action in November “if Kaiser continues to commit unfair labour practices”.
In a statement, Kaiser Permanente said it was “disappointed” by the strike and added it plans to keep its medical centres running throughout the three-day walkout.
“Our medical centres will remain open during the strike and will be staffed by our physicians and trained and experienced managers and staff,” it added.
The action taken by Kaiser Permanente workers comes during a year in which the US has seen an unusually high level of strikes amid rising inflation.
Strikes are continuing in Detroit, where the United Auto Workers union is engaged in its first-ever joint strike against the “Big Three” car makers – GM, Ford and Chrysler maker Stellantis – in a push for higher pay and better working conditions.
And in Hollywood, a months-long joint strike by writers and actors recently brought California's lucrative film industry to a halt, stopping production and broadcasts of major film and TV productions.
While the writers have since agreed on a deal to return to work, actors represented by the Sag-Aftra union remain on strike as the final details of their own deal with the major studios is hammered out.