- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Kaiser Permanente workers in Hawaii on Monday started a six-day strike with picketing in front of clinics and a hospital.

Unite Here Local 5 union members held signs and chanted “Fair is fair, we want our share” as they walked in in front of Kaiser’s Honolulu clinic.

Medical assistant Dione Ortiz, 32, said she’s striking to protect worker pensions and protest staffing shortages.

Ortiz said that she has frequently had to assist two doctors instead of one because of a lack of staffing during the past year. This results in longer wait times for patients and isn’t fair to patients or doctors, she said.

“It’s difficult to give each individual the care that they need. So we need the staffing, we need help, we need support,” said Ortiz, who has worked at Kaiser for five years.

Local 5 represents 1,900 workers at Kaiser in Hawaii, including licensed practical nurses, housekeepers and maintenance staff. Eighty-eight percent of members who cast ballots in a recent vote favored striking.

The union also objects to what it calls a low proposed wage increase and a proposal to eliminate guaranteed pensions for new employees.

Kaiser Hawaii spokeswoman Laura M. Lott said the company was disappointed the union has gone on strike. “We don’t think it’s going to resolve any issues. We need to do that at the bargaining table,” she said.

Kaiser has closed 10 smaller clinics and consolidated operations at larger offices during the strike. It’s rescheduling elective procedures and some appointments that aren’t urgent.

Lott said more than 100 people showed up at closed locations on Monday. Greeters gave them directions and alternatives for care, she said.

Unrelated to the strike, a phone system hardware problem created longer-than-expected wait times at Kaiser’s Waipio Medical Office, Lott said. The problem was fixed, and call volumes returned to normal, she said.

The strike is scheduled to last through Saturday.

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