Kaiser mental health providers win contract in Southern California

NewsMarch 28, 2022

NUHW members who provide behavioral health care at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California overwhelmingly ratified a contract that improves wages, expands eligibility for student loan repayments, provides a new paid holiday, and increases retiree medical benefits.

The contract for approximately 1,900 psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, addiction counselors, therapists and other mental health classifications  includes a 3 percent raise retroactive to last October with 2 percent raises and 2 percent lump sum payments in Years 2 and 3 for full- and part-time workers.

NUHW members also retain an annual performance bonus of up to $5,000. The bonus is superior to the bonuses agreed to recently by UNAC and the Alliance of Kaiser Unions that are contingent on those unions helping Kaiser achieve cost costing from their bargaining units.

“The Alliance unions, including UNAC, essentially tied performance bonuses to helping Kaiser cut costs, which likely means having to cut staff in order to receive their full bonus payments,” said Jody Forter, an addiction medicine clinician, who served on the bargaining committee. “As a member-led union, we would never agree at the bargaining table to tie our bonuses to staffing levels.”

Under the contract, NUHW members will now receive Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday, collect an additional $10,000 in their retiree Health account when they turn 85, and become eligible for the student loan repayment program if they are scheduled to work at least 20 hours per week. Kaiser, whose mental health clinics are severely understaffed, also agreed to recognize the classification of licensed professional clinical counselor, which should enable it to broaden the pool of potential job candidates.

The contract was signed less than four months before SB 221, NUHW’s landmark behavioral health timely access law, is scheduled to take effect. With all health insurers, including Kaiser, soon to be required to provide follow-up mental health therapy appointments within 10 business days, Kaiser, which makes many patients wait two-to-three months between appointments, will soon be facing intense pressure to boost staffing.

NUHW has already helped secure a state audit of Kaiser’s compliance with mental health access laws and clinicians are organizing to document when patients can’t get the timely care to which they are legally required.

“This contract is a good step forward, and we are already taking our next steps to make sure that Kaiser complies with the law we’ve passed,” Forter said. “The only way Kaiser can follow the law is to improve working conditions so that it can hire more staff and keep the staff that it has.”