After postponing any actions following the sudden death of Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson last month, thousands of psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare professionals plan to strike Kaiser Permanente facilities across California Dec. 16 to 20.
Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California regional headquarters is in Pasadena. The healthcare provider operates medical and mental health care offices and urgent care facilities here.
The strike by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHCW) would potentially shut down mental health services at more than 100 Kaiser clinics and medical facilities from San Diego to Sacramento.
According to an NUHCW announcement Thursday, Kaiser is refusing to negotiate a settlement to avert the strike unless mental health clinicians agree to accept “significantly poorer” retirement and health benefits than Kaiser provides to more than 120,000 other employees in California.
A top Kaiser Permanente official however said while an outside mediator delivered a proposed compromise solution which Kaiser Permanente is considering, the Union has instead chosen to strike rather than participate.
Kaiser psychologist Ken Rogers said in the NUHCW announcement that “mental health has been underserved and overlooked by the Kaiser system for too long.”
“We’re ready to work with Kaiser to create a new model for mental health care that doesn’t force patients to wait two months for appointments and leave clinicians with unsustainable caseloads. But Kaiser needs to show that it’s committed to fixing its system and treating patients and caregivers fairly,” Rogers added.
According to the NUHCW, Kaiser Permanente clinicians, who have been working without a contract for over a year, held a five-day statewide strike last December. Both sides have tentatively agreed to commence a collaborative process to “reinvent” Kaiser Permanente’s mental health system.
Clinicians are also proposing that Kaiser Permanente restore pensions that it unilaterally rescinded for newly hired mental health clinicians in Southern California, but which remain in place for nearly all other Kaiser Permanente employees.
“How can we trust Kaiser to work with us to fix its mental health care system when it refuses to agree to basic patient care improvements and insists on singling us out for poorer benefits,” said Deborah Silverman, a Kaiser social worker.
In a statement sent to Pasadena Now Thursday, Dennis Dabney, senior vice president, National Labor Relations and the Office of Labor Management Partnership, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, said that Kaiser Permanente management has “been jointly working with an external, neutral mediator to help us reach a collective bargaining agreement.”
According to Dabney, the mediator delivered a proposed compromise solution last week to both sides that Kaiser Permanente is “seriously considering, however, the union has rejected it, and announced plans to strike instead of working through the mediated process.”
Dabney’s statement also claimed that in Southern California, the primary dispute is over wage increases and retirement benefits.
The mediator’s recommendation includes wage increases of 3%, 2.75%, 2.75%, 2.5% each year with lump sum payments in years 2-4 of .25%, .25%, and .5% to provide 3% increases per year over the terms of the agreement and a $2,600 retroactive bonus, according to Kaiser Permanente.
Additionally, in terms of retirement, said Dabney, NUHW employees in Southern California have the same defined contribution plan that nearly a dozen other unions have, and that has been in place for more than four years.
“Our current proposal on the table actually enriches this program such that a 3% employee contribution would have a 9% contribution from Kaiser Permanente. Again, this is no reason to strike,” said the statement.
“Rather than calling for a strike, NUHW’s leadership should continue to engage with the mediator and Kaiser Permanente to resolve these issues,” the statement concluded.