Kaiser Permanente Mental Health Workers in California Begin Strike

About 4,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health workers in California are striking this week in what they say is an effort to shorten wait times for patients and reduce caseloads for therapists. 

The psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare professionals involved are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

The weeklong strike was originally scheduled for the week of November 11, but NUHW voted to delay the strike following the death of the Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson. Tyson died on November 10.

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The five-day strike will “potentially shut down mental health services” at more than 100 Kaiser facilities across California, NUHW said in a press release announcing the news.

The union is asking that Kaiser bring up staffing levels at mental health clinics, restore pensions to newly hired mental health clinicians in Southern California and provide more time for paperwork and care coordination, among other requests.

NUHW claims that Kaiser mental health workers are offered significantly worse retirement and health benefits than those provided to medical employees with physical specialties. On top of that, the union says that mental health workers’ caseloads are heavier.

“Mental health has been underserved and overlooked by the Kaiser system for too long,” Ken Rogers, a Kaiser psychologist on NUHW’s bargaining team, said in the press release. “We’re ready to work with Kaiser to create a new model for mental health care that doesn’t force patients to wait two months for appointments and leave clinicians with unsustainable caseloads. But Kaiser needs to show that it’s committed to fixing its system and treating patients and caregivers fairly.”

Meanwhile, Kaiser officials claim they’ve attempted to compromise with the union using a mediator with no luck. 

“The only issues actively in negotiation in Northern California are related to wage increases and the amount of administrative time that therapists have beyond patient time,” Kaiser labor executive Dennis Dabney told The Sacramento Bee. “We believe these issues are resolvable and there is no reason to strike.”

Meanwhile, in Southern California, wage increases and retirement benefits are the union’s main concern, Dabney claimed, noting that therapists there are paid nearly 35% over the market average.

Dabney also detailed incremental wage increases for therapists and new metrics to establish patient care versus administrative task ratios, which he said the union declined. 

However, NUHW maintains that there are unacceptable disparities between Kaiser mental health and physical health workers that need to be fixed.

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