Nearly 2,000 mental health workers join other Kaiser union members to authorize strike


Psychologists, therapists and social workers at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, who are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, have joined other unionized workers to the health care system by authorizing a strike, according to statements by the union and Kaiser.

The strike authorization vote by nearly 2,000 mental health workers in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Sacramento took place primarily the week of October 17 and ended on October 25. This does not mean that a strike will take place but gives the National Union of Health Workers the opportunity to call one. Union representatives are expected to submit formal strike notice to Kaiser, based in Oakland, Calif.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers said its members authorized a strike because Kaiser rejected union proposals to increase membership, recruit more bilingual and minority therapists and alleviate the unsustainable workloads that lead to a increased turnover at Kaiser clinics. The union also referred to the legislation sign earlier this year by California Governor Gavin Newsom who demanded that health plans and insurers provide patients with timely follow-up care for mental health issues and substance use disorders. Union officials say Kaiser will need to hire many more clinicians to comply with the new law, which comes into effect on July 1.

In addition, the union cited a investigation from Kaiser’s mental health clinicians released earlier this year, which found that 80 percent of respondents said their clinics lack the adequate staff to provide appropriate and timely care.

“We have been at the forefront of exposing Kaiser’s greed to underfund mental health care and forcing patients to wait months between therapy appointments,” said Mickey Fitzpatrick, a psychologist. de Kaiser, in a press release. “Now we have the opportunity to join with other unions and show that Kaiser’s greed is hurting patients across California.”

Kaiser, senior vice president of human resources, Arlene Peasnall, in a statement shared with Becker On October 28, noted a national shortage of mental health clinicians which was a challenge even before the pandemic.

“Over the past year and a half, the demand for care has increased everywhere. We have taken steps to address the caregiver shortage and ensure that care is available for our members. Over the past five years, we have added hundreds of new health clinicians to our workforce; we currently have over 300 open positions, ”said Ms Peasnall. “We have worked hard to increase the number of therapists in California and are investing $ 30 million to build a pipeline to educate and train new mental health professionals across the state. We have significantly expanded our ability to provide virtual care to patients who want it. , increasing convenience and access, although the NUHW initially opposed this effort. We also continue to develop our collaborative care programs which have been shown to be effective in treating patients with anxiety and depression.

Regarding allegations of long wait times for mental health care, she said that Kaiser “offers prompt access to initial and return appointments that meets all state standards and is above the standard. average of other Californian providers “. But she added that work around this issue is ongoing.

“We know that every appointment is important and counts for every patient, each person’s needs are unique and every Kaiser Permanente member who needs care deserves prompt access to that care,” said Peasnall.

She said the crux of the matter in the negotiations is that healthcare is increasingly unaffordable and rising wages are half of Kaiser’s costs. She said Kaiser cannot continue to allow costs to exceed what her members can afford.

Mental health workers represented by the Northern California National Health Workers Union have been without contracts since October 1. No strike date has been set as future contract talks are scheduled in northern California.

The vote to authorize the strike by members of the National Union of Health Care Workers of Northern California comes as Kaiser negotiates a national contract with the United Nurses Associations of California / Union of Health Care Professionals, as well as other unions in the Alliance of Health Care Unions. The alliance covers more than 50,000 Kaiser workers across the country.

Amid negotiations, a staffing shortage and a proposed two-tier pay system that would pay entry-level employees less than their more experienced colleagues also prompted tens of thousands of Kaiser employees, mostly in Southern California, to allow a strike earlier in October. The vote involved 21,000 workers represented by the United Nurses Associations of California / Union of Health Care Professionals and 7,000 members of United Steelworkers. Almost 2,000 other Kaiser workers in Hawaii, represented by UNITE HERE Local 5, authorized a strike October 20.

In addition, on October 29, the United Nurses Associations of California / Union of Health Care Professionals is expected to release the results of a strike authorization vote by members of its units in Northern California and Hawaii, which include approximately 1,500 Kaiser pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists.

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