Kaiser mental health clinicians schedule open-ended strike

Four thousand mental health clinicians and healthcare professionals at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente facilities plan to strike starting on June 11 over behavioral healthcare access, the union that represents them announced.

The strike will involve psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other medical professionals, affecting more than 100 Kaiser clinics and medical facilities across California.

It will start on June 11 and continue until Kaiser and the workers reach an agreement to immediately improve care access for mental health patients, said National Union of Healthcare Workers representatives. A rally is also scheduled for June 12 outside the state capitol in Sacramento.

"We can’t wait any longer to fix this problem," said Alicia Cruz, a Kaiser therapist, in a news release. "I work with young people who are suicidal and self-harming, and our group sessions are so crowded that children and their parents have to sit on the floor. We just don't have the resources at our clinic to provide the services these people need, and Kaiser isn't doing anything about it."

The union says some Kaiser patients must wait at least a month or longer for mental health appointments. On Dec. 14, Kaiser mental health clinicians ended a five-day strike to call attention to the issue and demand better care access. Union representatives said workers also went on strike in April at a Kaiser clinic.

Kaiser expressed disappointment about the most recent strike plans.

The healthcare giant, which has been in negotiations with the union for about a year, also said in a statement that both sides have made progress toward a contract.

"We’ve heard their concerns regarding the dramatic increase in mental healthcare demand, the implications on their workload, and the implications for our patients. We presented a comprehensive and generous offer that addresses the concerns we have heard from our therapists, including staffing and workload concerns, and [that] also offers guaranteed wage increases that would keep Kaiser Permanente therapists among the highest paid mental health workers in California," the statement reads.

"Unfortunately, last week, the union presented financial demands in bargaining that are unreasonable and, without giving us the opportunity to respond, notified us of its plan to call an open-ended strike," Kaiser added.

The healthcare giant said the potential for an open-ended walkout does not align with the progress in negotiations and is encouraging workers not to strike.


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