Kaiser mental health workers spend Labor Day marching picket lines as strike enters 2nd week

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Usually, Labor Day is celebrated with picnics and parades. But employees of Kaiser Permanente Hawaii’s mental health unit spent much of the day walking the picket lines.

Striking Kaiser employees – which include 57 psychologists, social workers, nurses and counselors – are demanding better pay and increased staffing.

They said the current pay scale is not enough to cover the skyrocketing cost of living here. Honolulu’s inflation rate is now around 6.3%.

“It is extremely difficult for us to meet the cost of living. More than 60% of our employees have a second job. And you know, we’re talking about people with higher degrees,” said Andrea Kumura, a clinical social worker at Kaiser.

Kaiser mental health workers said they haven’t received pay raises to match cost-of-living increases because, even though they organized four years ago, they haven’t no contract with Kaiser.

But Kaiser said it offers attractive compensation packages and has hired 28 clinicians in its mental health division since the start of 2021.

“We are committed to remaining an employer of choice for mental health professionals by continuing to provide our employees with market-leading salaries and benefits,” the company said.

High costs not only hurt employees, but also affect employers.

Businesses such as restaurants and service providers have seen a sharp rise in food and energy costs over the past year.

And, due to labor shortages, many establishments have had to increase wages by up to 10% over the past year. Some offer cash bonuses to new hires.

“Costs have increased across the board, regardless of your business, whether it’s just your direct costs, your labor and other overhead,” said Ryan Tanaka, president of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

Kaiser mental health employees and management will resume negotiations on Tuesday.

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