Monday, February 02, 2015
Kaiser strike: Mainstream media fail (again) to cover labor dispute details
by Larry Geller
Union workers at Kaiser Permanente in Honolulu are on strike, and we have yet to learn the details from the mainstream coverage. Even the Unite Here Local 5 website doesn’t detail the grievances. They could do better than the generality, “Kaiser is failing workers, failing patients, and failing the community.”
At the same time, media could do better by asking some simple questions. The answers would help dispel the notion that media instill in readers and viewers that strikes are all about squeezing more money out of employers. In this and many situations, there’s more to it.
Media coverage tends to blame one side (the workers, of course) for a work stoppage. Just as it takes two to tango, it takes both sides to create a labor dispute.
I went out with my little audio recorder during a demonstration held in November, 2013 to see what I could learn. Workers in red t-shirts were lined up along S. King St. near the Kaiser building, chanting and waving signs. I waded in and asked several people why they were on strike—in particular, what were the working conditions that they felt were affecting patients?
Why that question? Because we should all be informed of whether the second largest health care provider in the state might be cutting corners, and how. It’s not possible to go into a clinic and interview workers on the job—the strike situation presents an opportunity that reporters should not pass up to gather details beyond the simple economic disagreements.
Since that demonstration was so long ago, and I haven’t had a chance to go out yet during the current action, I’ll mention one response that appears to be still current.
I spoke with several medical assistants. They indicated that they are now so few that at 9 a.m., say, when patients crowd into waiting rooms, doctors are sharing MAs and so patients are not seen for some time as the MAs shuttle back and forth. The MAs are under considerable pressure, which can’t be good for quality of care.
See how easy it is? When readers or TV viewers are considering which health plan to choose, aren’t these allegations something that they might want to take into consideration?
The media can go one step further and check specific allegations with Kaiser management. I doubt that Kaiser would respond to a mere blogger, but KITV, for example, could get an answer (hint).
So let’s have better reporting on this issue.