Roughly 2,600 Kaiser Permanente mental-health employees, upset by what they allege is chronic understaffing of mental-health clinics, next Monday plan to launch a weeklong strike in California.
Kaiser psychologists, therapists and social workers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers will take part in 65 picket lines at over 35 California locations beginning Jan. 12. The NUHW notified Kaiser of the strike on New Year's Eve, according to a release from the union.
A Kaiser spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The NUHW has criticized Kaiser over the last several years for not hiring enough mental-health clinicians to meet patient demand. NUHW members have argued that patients should not have to wait one to two months for their next non-urgent individual therapy appointment. Kaiser officials have maintained that these wait times are competitive.
The California Department of Managed Health Care fined Kaiser $4 million in 2013 for failing to provide timely care for mental-health patients.
Union officials said in a December bargaining session that they proposed each facility have a clinician-management committee that would come to a consensus on staffing and outsourcing, with the help of a mediator if needed. They claim they've exhausted all nondisruptive options, and are striking to advocate for patients.
“We feel that we're overall helping patients and helping these issues by striking,” said Jim Clifford, a Kaiser therapist and NUHW member.
Also on the picket lines will be 700 workers represented by NUHW who don't work in mental health. Though a strike means appointments could be affected, Kaiser had the means to prevent the staffing issue from coming up in the first place, Clifford said.
The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, the union to which NUHW's founders belonged before they split off in 2009, has maintained that Kaiser's mental-healthcare staffing is adequate. The union represents about 45,000 employees at Kaiser, though NUHW exclusively represents the company's mental health providers. The SEIU represents mental health clerical workers.
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