Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians plan open-ended 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. 2 news release. 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 in early 2021, and the most recent contract expired in September 2021, Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser, said in a statement that was shared with Becker's. Ms. Catsavas said during the last bargaining session, both sides "were about 1 percent apart in our respective wage proposals, and we came to bargaining [July 29] with hopes to bargain vigorously and bring negotiations to a conclusion. Unfortunately, union leadership delivered a fully new economic proposal from NUHW that avoids reaching agreement and pushes us further apart."

The union contends that Kaiser has failed to provide real parity for mental healthcare and has rejected proposals to increase staffing and access to care during contract negotiations. "We're serving a strike notice because our patients aren't receiving needed services. We're not willing to be part of a system that disrespects the work we do and prevents us from providing ethical care. Kaiser has no excuse to continue treating mental healthcare as a separate and unequal service, and we're going to keep striking until that changes," Shay Loftus, PhD, a psychologist in Kaiser's Napa/Solano region, said in the union release.  

"We are committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable agreement that is good for our therapists and our patients," Ms. Catsavas said. "We believe the bargaining table is the best place to resolve our differences; nevertheless, we regularly prepare comprehensive contingency plans and remain prepared to ensure our members will receive the care they need, should NUHW move forward with this strike."

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