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Kaiser Permanente Workers Launch 1-Day Strike

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Kaiser Permanente workers across the state began picketing began at 7 a.m. Tuesday in a one-day strike over a new contract for mental health and optical employees.

Thousands of workers took to picket lines Tuesday in Northern and Southern California over a contract dispute involving 4,000 employees who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, a NUHW representative said.

Those workers include NUHW-represented mental health clinicians, clinical psychologists, licensed social workers and opticians.

The union has been in contract negotiations for more than a year, according to Debbie Raymond, a chief nursing officer for Kaiser.

Some 17,000 registered nurses in Northern California represented by the California Nurses Association and approximately 650 building and equipment vendors represented by Stationary Engineers Local 39 are striking in support of the NUHW workers, according to the CNA.

Kaiser officials said there are approximately 1,500 NUHW-represented workers at Northern California Kaiser locations.

The breakdown in talks involves a salary and benefits package that Kaiser "put on the table many, many months ago," Raymond said, noting that Kaiser and NUHW have reached tentative agreements on 31 elements of the new contract.

The union claims that Kaiser has refused to address caregiver concerns about what they say is chronic short staffing and its negative impacts on patient care.

"It is disappointing that Kaiser is refusing to bargain for sufficient staffing for mental health services, and a secure retirement and accessible health coverage for its frontline caregivers despite its record profits," said Zenei Cortez, a CNA co-president who works at Kaiser South San Francisco.

This is the second time the 17,000 Northern California Kaiser registered nurses have participated in a walkout since Sept. 22, 2011, when thousands of nurses picketed at more than 30 hospitals to support Sutter Health nurses who were navigating contract negotiations.

"We're disappointed that the CNA has taken this action," Raymond said, because of a contract in place since September with "very clear language that there should be no work stoppage or work interruptions."

<strong>KCBS' Dave Padilla Reports:</strong>

According to Raymond, approximately 60 percent of the system's registered nurses who were scheduled to work reported to work today. She said those who participated in the strike today will be welcomed back Wednesday.

Rallies were planned for noon at Kaiser Oakland at 3801 Howe St. and Kaiser South Sacramento at 6500 Bruceville Road in Sacramento.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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