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Kaiser Mental Health Care Providers Authorize Strike, Allege Staff Shortages

OAKLAND (BCN) -- Nearly 2,000 psychologists, therapists and social workers in Kaiser Permanente's Northern California division voted to authorize a strike against their workplace, the National Union of Healthcare Workers announced Thursday.

The strike is in response to Kaiser allegedly rejecting union proposals, which included easing caseloads and hiring more bilingual therapists from minority groups. Mental health care providers at Kaiser have been without a contract since Oct. 1, the union said in a press release.

The recent Senate Bill 221 requires health plans and insurers to set up follow-up therapy appointments no later than 10 business days, in an effort to provide timely mental health services in California. NUHW and clinicians say that more staffing is essential to follow this protocol.

"We've been at the forefront in exposing Kaiser's greed in underfunding mental health care and forcing patients to wait months between therapy appointments," Mickey Fitzpatrick, a Kaiser psychologist, said in a statement. "Now, we have the opportunity to stand together with other unions and show that Kaiser's greed is harming patients across California."

Separately, members of the Alliance of Health Care Unions allege that Kaiser is proposing wage cuts in Southern California care facilities for those hired after 2022, which is partially why some of their 36,000 members announced a strike earlier this year.

Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, considers Kaiser's proposal to be a "red flag that it has no intention of fixing its broken mental health care system or complying with state mental health access laws."

"For Kaiser to propose massive pay cuts for future mental health clinicians at a time when patients are waiting months to see their therapist is a slap in the face to everyone who believes in parity for mental health care," Rosselli said in a statement.

Kaiser clinicians aren't the only ones citing understaffing and unfair working conditions in the health care field. Earlier this week, nurses at San Jose's Regional Medical Center rallied outside their workplace to demand better working conditions and more staffing.

Employees at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch and the John Muir Behavioral Health Center in Concord also noted alleged staffing shortages that predate the COVID-19 pandemic when they authorized a strike in a vote last month.

Clinicians have not officially filed the strike to Kaiser or set a strike date as they work through contract talks next week, NUHW officials said in a press release.

Kaiser Permanente officials issued the following statement on Friday:

"Kaiser Permanente is indisputably one of the most labor-friendly organizations in the United States. We have the longest-running and most successful labor management partnership in the nation. As the largest health care union employer in the U.S. — with nearly 75% of our employees working under collective bargaining agreements — we have always strived to work cooperatively and constructively with the unions that represent our employees.

We strongly believe that differences in bargaining are best worked out at the bargaining table. We understand that some union leaders are now calling for a strike, even though our members and communities are continuing to face the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. A strike authorization does not automatically trigger a strike. Unions still would be required to provide us with a 10-day notification before any work stoppage could commence.

We ask that our employees reject a call to walk away from the patients who need them. Our priority is to continue to provide our members with high-quality, safe care. In the event of any kind of work stoppage, our facilities will be staffed by our physicians along with trained and experienced managers and contingency staff.

We believe in our partnership, we believe in our employees, we believe in our labor leaders. While we understand the bargaining tactics being used, we believe we will come together and find a mutually beneficial solution."

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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