Kaiser members hold firm in rejecting illegal gag order

Kaiser Mental HealthJune 24, 2020

NUHW members have beaten back an attempt by Kaiser Permanente to make them surrender their rights to organize patients and speak out about the challenges their patients face getting timely mental health care.

After Kaiser mental health clinicians and healthcare professionals ratified new contracts last month, Kaiser illegally refused to implement the contracts, including raises, unless they agreed to a side agreement that had never been discussed during 18 months of negotiations.

While other unions had signed similar agreements with Kaiser without consulting its members, many of NUHW’s Kaiser members were strongly opposed to giving up their rights or allowing Kaiser to get away with illegally refusing to implement their ratified contracts.

Members wrote and called Kaiser executives letting them know they would never agree to what was ostensibly a gag order, and stewards authorized legal action aimed at forcing Kaiser to implement the contract with full raises and interest.

Eventually Kaiser blinked. Kaiser agreed to work with us on a revised side agreement that removed key provisions that NUHW members found most objectionable. 

The compromise side agreement includes only standard boilerplate language that precludes NUHW from targeting Kaiser executives or board members during the duration of the contract, but maintains the rights of members to organize patients or speak publicly, including to journalists and elected officials, about the issues they face in delivering timely care. Kaiser is also precluded from targeting NUHW leaders. The compromise agreement will only go into effect once Kaiser fully implements the contract in July.

Kaiser members held multiple electronic town hall meetings to discuss the compromise proposal. While several stewards preferred rejecting the agreement in order to pursue legal recourse against Kaiser or additional concessions, more than 80 percent of Kaiser members approved the compromise side agreement in an electronic vote earlier this month. 

“Kaiser executives thought they could pressure us into giving away our right to speak the truth about the care our patients receive,” said Marty Needleman, a Kaiser therapist in Southern California. “But we didn’t flinch. Now it’s time for Kaiser to stop playing games and start sincerely working with us to build a new model for delivering mental health care.”