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Kaiser Mental Health Care Workers Enter 3rd Day Of Statewide Strike

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians entered the third day of their five-day strike Wednesday by expanding picket lines to 10 medical centers around the state.

The strike started Monday, with psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers targeting Kaiser hospitals in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Cupertino.

On Tuesday, strikers marched to Kaiser's Oakland headquarters and on Thursday they will gather at the state Capitol and then march to the California Department of Managed Health Care to "hold the oversight agency to account" when it comes to ensuring that Kaiser follows guidelines intended to provide access to mental health care, NUHW spokesman Matthew Artz said.

The union, which has been working without a contract for about a year, is also asking for a roughly 3 percent annual salary increase and Kaiser's latest offer isn't far off that mark, Artz said.

"We're pretty close, in Northern California, when it comes to salaries," Artz said. "The main issues are really about working conditions and access to care."

The health care system's clinics are "severely understaffed, patients are routinely forced to wait six to eight weeks -- and sometimes longer -- for therapy appointments and clinicians are so overbooked that they have to work after hours trying to help patients who can't wait for care," according to union officials.

The only issues "actively in negotiation," however, are wages and the time therapists spend outside of directly seeing patients, Kaiser senior vice president Dennis Dabney said in a statement on Dec. 6.

The two sides haven't held face-to-face talks for several months.

Kaiser officials say the system's hospitals and offices will remain open during the strike -- the sixth within the past year -- but patients might be required to reschedule appointments.

Wednesday's picket lines are being held at medical centers in Redwood City, San Leandro, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, Walnut Creek, San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, Fresno and Roseville.

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