Kaiser mental health workers hold 5-day statewide strike

December 30th, 2019

Four thousand Kaiser mental health clinicians and other healthcare professionals demonstrated their resolve last week with a powerful five-day strike that put Kaiser on the defensive and forced its executives to understand just how determined NUHW members are to win a fair contract that improves the care their patients receive.

Over the course of five days, Kaiser members marched through the streets of downtown Oakland and Sacramento, and held nearly 40 energetic picket lines outside Kaiser facilities across California. At all Northern California picket lines we had great support from the Stationary Engineers Local 39, who held a sympathy strike, as well as members of other unions who marched with us in solidarity. 

Our picket lines were also bolstered by Kaiser patients and their loved ones, including Clarissa Anderson, whose sister, Kaiser patient Chloe Roston, died by suicide. They not only offered their support, they also helped validate our message that Kaiser is not providing timely, adequate mental health care. 

“This strike has sent a clear message to Kaiser that we will keep fighting for our patients and standing together to achieve real parity for mental health care,” said Marlen Jimenez, a Kaiser social worker. “Hearing from patients this week talk about their struggles to access mental health care makes me even more determined to make Kaiser finally fix this problem.”

From December 13, through the morning of December 20, we generated 482 broadcast news stories about the strike and 184 stories that ran on websites and print publications. That’s similar to last year’s strike, but several of this year’s articles were far more thorough and went to greater lengths to debunk Kaiser’s claims and reveal the truth about its mental health care system.

In particular, please see this article that ran in both the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle; this story in CalMatters, and this story in the Sacramento Bee and affiliated papers in the Central Valley.

Two of the articles discuss our march on the Department of Managed Health Care in Sacramento. In the days ahead, we plan to file a complaint with the agency about Kaiser’s cancellation of tens of thousands of patients’ treatment appointments during the strike. 

We are also following up with the agency’s director, Shelley Rouillard, to make good on the pledge DMHC officials made this month to schedule a formal meeting with Kaiser clinicians to better understand the serious obstacles faced in providing timely, clinically appropriate care in the Kaiser system.

We are continuing to work with the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) to hold Kaiser — and other health plans — accountable to mental health parity laws. Our top allies, State Controller Betty Yee and State Treasurer Fiona Ma, have prompted CalPERS to investigate the adequacy of behavioral health services provided to its 1.6 million members, many of whom have Kaiser insurance. We also are organizing a meeting between CalPERS officials and Kaiser clinicians.

There is a lot to be excited about. We demonstrated our strength to Kaiser last week, and are pursuing a number of initiatives with regulatory and purchaser agencies. We remain ready to negotiate and settle a fair contract. It’s time for Kaiser to come back to the table and bargain in good faith.