By Miriam Raftery
December 4, 2019 (San Diego) - Kaiser Permanente’s 4,000 psychologists, therapists, social workers and other healthcare professionals are going on strike for five days starting Monday, Dec. 16 at more than 100 medical facilities across California.
This statewide strike was originally scheduled for last month. But clinicians postponed it in the wake of Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson’s sudden passing.
“Our members, who have been working without a contract for more than a year, were hopeful that Kaiser executives — including the top doctors with the for-profit Permanente Medical Groups — would seek out compromises to avert a strike,” says Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. “But Kaiser’s contract proposal would continue to leave clinicians struggling with unsustainable caseloads, while forcing them to accept significantly poorer retirement and health benefits than more than 120,000 other Kaiser employees in California who settled contracts recently.”
Rosselli says Kaiser’s mental health system is in “full-blown crisis” with clinics understaffed and patients often waiting a month or more for care. The union also contends too many patients are hospitalized for mental health care due to a lack of walk-in appointments.
Kaiser says it’s hiring more clinicians, but the union contends it may be difficult to recruit and retain new clinicians without better benefits.
Clinicians are also proposing that Kaiser restore pensions that it unilaterally rescinded four years ago for newly hired mental health clinicians in Southern California, but which remain in place for nearly all other Kaiser employees. Kaiser has since settled contracts with 19 unions representing 121,091 employees in California without taking away pension benefits for new hires.
John Nelson, vice president of communications, Kaiser Permanente, issued this statement: “It is disappointing that, once again, the leadership of the National Union of Healthcare Workers is calling on our mental health therapists to walk away from their patients. This planned strike does not make sense given that we’re offering generous wages and benefits and taking important steps to help address the nation’s crisis in mental health care — hiring hundreds of new therapists, building new treatment facilities, and investing millions to help people enter the mental health care profession.”
Nelson added, “On Wednesday, October 30, the California Office of the Patient Advocate awarded Kaiser Permanente’s health plans in California the highest possible rating for quality mental health care. This marks the 12th consecutive year that we have stood apart as the only plans to receive OPA’s top ratings and serves as a reflection of the exceptional work being done by our mental health providers and our substantial investments in this area.”
Nelson notes that on November 1, the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions announced they overwhelmingly ratified a national 4-year collective bargaining agreement that covers 84,000 employees. “While we hope there will not be an NUHW strike,” he concluded, “we have contingency plans in place to ensure that our members continue to receive high-quality care.”