Courage California and NUHW: Partners for working people

NewsMarch 10, 2022

When mental health clinicians at Kaiser Permanente voted to join the newly formed National Union of Healthcare Workers more than a decade ago, Kaiser was intent on never settling a contract let alone collaborating to improve access to mental health care.

In their ultimately victorious five-year fight to secure a contract, the NUHW-represented clinicians had no stronger ally than Courage California, an online grassroots network with more than 1 million members that continues to champion them and their struggle to win parity for mental health care.

Courage created a website where Kaiser patients shared their stories of being denied timely mental health care. The organization also published commentaries and created an online petition calling on Kaiser to improve mental health services. It even ran an ad campaign on BART.

“Courage was our indispensable ally,” said Clem Papazian, a former psychiatric social worker at Kaiser and NUHW executive board member. “They provided smart, organized help that enabled us to engage so many people we never would have been able to reach.”

In 2016, one year after the Kaiser clinicians finally won a contract that forced the healthcare giant to hire 500 additional clinicians, Courage honored them with its 2016 United in Courage Award.

In accepting the award, Papazian, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2020, praised Courage for not shying away from “in-your-face tactics” to bring attention to pressing problems facing Californians. “It’s all the more meaningful to receive this award from Courage,” Papzian added because, “the term ‘courage’ is so apt when it comes to the stewards and rank and file members who risk their careers every day to bring attention to this crisis in mental health.”

Power in Partnership

“Working in partnerships is the core of everything we do,” Courage California Executive Director Irene Kao said. “We stay in close conversation with partners across the state to work on issues where we see common gaps and needs, and where we can use our unique role in connecting people.”

Courage California (formerly known as Courage Campaign) was formed in 2005 by Rick Jacobs, a gay rights activist, who used his political and nonprofit expertise to build a network for progressive change in California.

After California voters approved Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage in the state in 2008, Courage helped lead the charge to overturn the law. It produced the “Fidelity video,” which became one of the most-watched political videos in California history.

As part of Courage’s mission to hold elected representatives accountable for their actions, Courage California puts out its annual Courage Score report card for all California state legislators. Those who best reflect the interests of their constituents are All-Stars. Those who routinely support corporate interests find themselves in the Courage’s Hall of Shame.

“This is the only state legislative report card and we’re able to provide tools to constituents and lobbying groups to hold representatives accountable for where they’re getting money and how they’re voting,” Kao said.

Partnering with NUHW

Courage California and NUHW have had close connections since the founding of both organizations.

“We have a common ideology, common positions on progressive issues,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said.

To show appreciation for Courage’s support during NUHW’s early years and the fight for a contract at Kaiser, the union presented Jacobs with an NUHW Solidarity Award. “NUHW would not exist without the help we received from Courage and Rick Jacobs,” Rosselli said.

The bond between the two organizations has grown stronger through the years.

“NUHW and Courage California have similar structures where we are really trying to pay attention to our members around the state,” Kao said.

One of the issues where this partnership is strongest is Medicare for All.

In 2021, both organizations organized a Virtual Town Hall and delivered 19,000 signatures in support of the single-payer healthcare system to the Governor’s office in Sacramento as part of the Healthy California Now coalition.

“Our communities are still battling around basic rights,” Kao said. “All these little fixes that have been implemented during the pandemic are a step in the right direction, but long-term, we need a bigger fix that is much better for people in the state. We support a single-payer system that can be a model for how it can be done in other states.”

In 2021, NUHW and Courage California also helped defeat the Republican-led recall of Governor Gavin Newsom and this year they are joining forces to host a debate among the candidates for mayor of Los Angeles.

“Courage is one of our oldest allies, but we’re really just getting started,” Rosselli said. “Every NUHW member should join Courage. There is so much good we accomplish together.”