Kaiser mental health workers approve contract after 10-week strike

Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers have approved a four-year contract with Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente.

Of union members who voted, 1,561 voted to approve the agreement, which is retroactive to September 2021 and expires in September 2025, according to an Oct. 21 NUHW news release shared with Becker's.

The vote came after Kaiser Permanente and the union reached a tentative agreement Oct. 18 to end a 10-week strike by mental health therapists in Northern California.

According to the NUHW, highlights of the contract include:       

  • About two additional hours weekly for therapists to perform responsibilities such as responding to patient emails and voicemails, tailoring treatment plans, communicating with social service agencies and charting appointments.       
  • Bumping extra hourly pay for bilingual therapists from $1 to $1.50.       
  • Kaiser Permanente's agreement to hire more therapists and expand its new treatment track programs.       
  • An agreement by Kaiser Permanente to work with therapists on a plan to expand crisis services to nearly all of its clinics.     
  • Kaiser Permanente's agreement to boost the amount of time therapists have to conduct initial assessments of children seeking mental healthcare, from 60 to 90 minutes.       
  • Five separate Model of Care Committees that will make recommendations related to Kaiser Permanente's service model and enable it to become compliant with a new California law that aims to reduce the time patients wait for an initial therapy appointment.       
  • Wage increases agreed to before mental health workers began their strike in California in August.

"It took much longer than it should have to reach this agreement, but, in the end, we succeeded in securing important improvements in patient care that Kaiser negotiators told us across the bargaining table that they'd never agree to," Jennifer Browning, a licensed clinical social worker for Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, Calif., who served on the NUHW bargaining committee, said in a news release. "At a time when there are so few appointment cancellations because we're seeing patients remotely, giving us enough time to perform all of our patient care duties is going to help keep a lot of us at Kaiser, and it's going to help Kaiser hire more therapists."

Becker's has reached out to Kaiser Permanente for comment.

In a joint statement shared with Becker's Oct. 18, the union and Kaiser Permanente said the agreement they reached "will benefit Kaiser Permanente patients and drive collaborative efforts aimed at improving access to mental healthcare, while at the same time recognizing and better supporting mental health therapists in their important work."

Kaiser mental healthcare workers in Hawaii, who are in their eighth week of a strike, have not yet reached an agreement with the system, according to the union news release.

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