More than 80,000 Kaiser Permanente emergency medical technicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other staffers are threatening to walk out of work next month, in what could be the nation’s largest strike since 1997.

The authorization to strike, approved by 98% of the union members who voted, does not mean a walk out will happen, but it does allow union leaders to call one as early as Oct. 1, giving them leverage ahead of negotiations with the California-based health care giant. Kaiser Permanente, comprised of 39 hospitals and nearly 700 medical officers, serves more than 12 million members in seven states across the country.

The workers, represented by 300 unions, include most non-clinical staff, such as biomedical technicians, medical billers, transcriptionists, receptionists and janitors. If they carry out the move, it would be the largest strike since 1997, when 185,000 United Parcel Service workers walked off the job for 16 days.

Not all of the unions in the coalition have sanctioned a strike yet, but given outcomes elsewhere, the umbrella organization representing Kaiser Permanente workers in a host of unions in several states expects the move to gain support from coast to coast.

Three unions made up of 65,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have already voted to authorize a strike next month. Another four unions comprised of 15,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are expected to cast similar votes by Sept. 22. The employees are represented by more than 12 local affiliates of the Service Employees International Union, Office and Professional Employees International Union and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

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