Kaiser mental health strike passes 1-month mark, talks break down

Kaiser Permanente and the National Union of Healthcare Workers recently resumed collective bargaining on behalf of mental health workers who are one month into their strike in California. However, both sides ultimately were unable to reach an agreement. 

More than 2,000 Kaiser psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers began an open-ended strike Aug. 15.

Both sides bargained Sept. 8 and Sept. 9, and went back to the table Sept. 14, according to health system and union statements shared with Becker's. Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser said the health system attended negotiations ready to reach an agreement, "having brought forward over the course of bargaining multiple enhancements to compensation, per diem pay, telecommuting and creative solutions to addressing indirect patient care workload." Kaiser said it has specifically worked to address the union's demands through measures including wage increases and increasing the indirect patient care time from the current 15 percent to 18 percent. 

The union contends Kaiser officials are "refusing to consider proposals aimed at increasing staffing, improving access to care and stemming the exodus of therapists from Kaiser because of workloads that have become unsustainable." It also points to an investigation the California Department of Managed Health Care opened in August to examine whether Kaiser Permanente is providing timely access to appointments during the strike. That investigation was ongoing as of Sept. 15. 

Meanwhile, the strike continues. Kaiser said Sept. 14 that "many clinicians have continued to see patients rather than engage in the labor strike activity." The health system estimated that more than 50 percent of striking clinicians were at work and seeing patients as of Sept. 14.

According to the union, which plans to hold a rally Sept. 16 at Kaiser Santa Rosa Medical Center's emergency department, no future bargaining sessions were scheduled as of Sept. 15. 

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