Kaiser workers authorize strike, win support of Berkeley Council

May 31st, 2019

June is shaping up to be a critical month for the 4,000 Kaiser mental health workers and health care professionals who have been without a contract since September. More than 80 percent of Kaiser psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and psychiatric nurses authorized an open-ended strike which could begin in June.

With negotiations heating up, NUHW members have been putting pressure on Kaiser. This week, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously on a resolution supporting the demands of Kaiser clinicians to boost staffing, reduce patient wait times, and provide equal benefits and salary adjustments as other unionized Kaiser workers.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin had tabled the resolution at Kaiser’s request, but reversed course after hearing from clinicians attending the meeting.

Kirstin Quinn Siegel, a therapist at Kaiser Richmond, told council members about a recent patient who was traumatized after having to defend her three young children from an intruder, but couldn’t get another therapy appoint until July.

“Kaiser earned $3.2 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2019, they can afford to provide this care,” she told council members. “Mental health care is a civil right. And, we need to fix this … this really cannot wait.”

Mental health clinicians also ratcheted up pressure on Kaiser by filing complaints with the California Department of Managed Health Care. One complaint asserted that Kaiser was violating best practices by replacing 60-to-90-minute face-to-face intake appointments with 30-minute appointments over the phone. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on the complaint.

In the story, Willow Thorsen, a Kaiser social worker said, “Long wait times are still plaguing us and patients can’t seem to get seen fast enough. So even if you have a really good experience and it helped in that initial phone call, they [patients] are still waiting another month before they see a therapist, and then again a whole other month after that.”

Clinicians also released the findings of a survey that showed access to mental health care at our Kaiser is getting worse. The survey found that 71 percent respondents reported that wait times for treatment appointments have grown longer over the past two years, while 77 percent reported that every day they must schedule their patients’ return appointments further into the future than is clinically appropriate. Sixty percent of clinicians responded that their earliest available return appointments are about a month away. Mental Health Weekly reported on the survey.

Kaiser patients are thankful for the dedication of our members to improve Kaiser’s mental health services. One of the families that we helped secure a meeting with Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson sent us a letter thanking us for our support. David and Seong Brown — whose daughter Elizabeth died by suicide last year — told us that:

“Without the assistance and support of NUHW members we would not have been able to get a seat at the table with Kaiser executives. I’m sure of that. Please let everyone know how grateful we truly are and how we cherish this partnership.”

Click here to read the full letter.