Kaiser mental health workers to begin strike

Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers are set to begin an open-ended strike Aug. 15 at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California.

The union represents more than 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians, and more than 2,000 unionized psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers in Northern California are expected to participate in the strike, according to an Aug. 14 news release shared with Becker's. The National Union of Healthcare Workers has about 16,000 members total in California and Hawaii.

Kaiser mental health clinicians voted in June to authorize a strike. The union and Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser began contract negotiations more than a year ago, Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in a statement shared with Becker's. Ms. Catsavas said both sides have been bargaining over wage increases as well as the union's demand to increase the time therapists spend on administrative work such as documentation, planning and other office tasks. She said Kaiser has "proposed an increase in the scheduled time allocated to administrative tasks, but the union is demanding still more administrative time," which "flies in the face of a 30 percent increase in demand for mental healthcare and NUHW's own commitments to help improve access to mental healthcare."

The union contends that during bargaining Aug. 12 and 13, clinicians accepted a wage offer from Kaiser, but that the health system "rejected a comprehensive settlement proposal that included provisions aimed at making Kaiser significantly increase staffing and sharply reduce appointment wait times." 

"We've been telling Kaiser executives since day one that this isn't about money. It's about our professional integrity and our ability to provide care that will help patients get better," Jennifer Browning, a licensed clinical social worker for Kaiser in Roseville, Calif., and a member of the union's bargaining team, said in the National Union of Healthcare Workers release.

"This strike is an unnecessary tactic to increase the union's leverage at the bargaining table making it harder, not easier, to deliver mental healthcare," Ms. Catsavas said. "Kaiser Permanente has made it known we are prepared to meet with the union at any time and will continue bargaining in good faith."

The union is expected to begin picketing Aug. 15 at:

  • Fresno Medical Center       
  • Sacramento Medical Center       
  • San Francisco Medical Center       
  • San Jose Medical Center

Meanwhile, Ms. Catsavas said patients will receive care from mental health clinicians who are not participating in the strike, as well as from Kaiser psychiatrists, clinical managers and other licensed professionals. She added that some nonurgent appointments may need to be rescheduled.

For more information about strike dates and locations, click here. More information about negotiations is also available here

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