California mental health workers vote to end 10-week strike


New York
CNN Business

A 10-week strike by about 2,000 therapists and other mental health professionals in Northern California ended with a ratification vote announced Friday.

The strike, led by Kaiser Permanente workers, was among a growing number of nationwide work stoppages focused on issues other than wages and benefits.

The pay increases included in Kaiser Permanente’s four-year deal were relatively modest – a retroactive 4% pay increase for the final year and a 3% increase for each of the following three years. But the union says it has won its main bargaining goals – better working conditions that will improve patient care and stop rapid staff turnover.

Among the changes was an increase from 60 to 90 minutes in the time therapists have to conduct an initial assessment of children. Kaiser Permanente has also pledged to increase its workforce, according to the union.

“Our strike was difficult and exhausting, but it was worth it,” said Natalie Rogers, therapist for Kaiser in Santa Rosa, Calif. “We’ve stood up to the nation’s largest nonprofit HMO, and we’ve made gains that will help us better serve our patients and advance the cause of mental health parity across the country.”

Working conditions issues such as scheduling, safety and the ability for workers to have a say in how work is done – have become major factors in the rise of union organizing drives across the country, including those at Starbucks (SBUX ) and Amazon (AMZN). They have also been the subject of recent strikes and contentious labor negotiations.

Teachers in Columbus, Ohio went on strike in late August over issues including class sizes and the poor condition of many schools. About 15,000 nurses went on strike in Minnesota last month, also citing working conditions and patient care issues. And more than 100,000 members of the country’s freight railway union nearly went on strike in September over working hours and working conditions for the engineers and conductors who make up the two-person train crews. .

Voting among mental health workers at Kaiser was 1,546 in favor and just 36 against. While the 2,000 workers will return to work, another 66 mental health professionals in Hawaii remain on strike against Kaiser.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.

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