Mental health clinicians strike and rally in rejection of Kaiser’s scare tactics

NewsSeptember 25, 2019

Kaiser mental health clinicians in Northern California sent a strong message to management that they won’t be forced into accepting a contract that doesn’t go far enough to improve patient care and working conditions.

On September 17 — Kaiser’s deadline for clinicians to either ratify a contract that 92 percent of them had voted to reject two months earlier or lose a 3 percent pay increase — clinicians held a pre-dawn rally outside Kaiser’s executive offices and striking workers at Kaiser’s Pleasanton clinic walked picket lines and held a mid-day rally in Oakland.

“We’re here to give a voice to people who really need care,” Kirstin Quinn Siegel, a therapist at Kaiser’s Richmond clinic, told KTVU.

After voting overwhelmingly to reject Kaiser’s offer in June of this year, clinicians offered a counterproposal that would have ensured the hiring of additional full-time clinicians to significantly reduce appointment wait times, established crisis services at every clinic, and provided clinicians sufficient time to conduct critical patient care work including following up on referrals, responding to patient calls and emails, and communicating with social service agencies.

“Kaiser has it right now that you will talk to someone by phone for thirty minutes after waiting two weeks for an appointment. And then maybe two weeks after that you might see one of us. It could be as much as seven weeks, or for some people 90 days to make an appointment,” Laura Fischler, a social worker, told KGO-7.

However, Kaiser, which has $46 billion in cash and investments, refused to compromise with clinicians seeking to improve access to care and threatened to eliminate a 3 percent raise retroactive to last October if clinicians didn’t approve its previous offer by the September 17 deadline.

 “We’re not going to let Kaiser bully us or our patients,” said Mickey Fitzpatrick, a psychologist at Kaiser’s Pleasanton Clinic, in an interview with KCBS. “Kaiser is telling us that if we don’t accept its contract offer, they’ll take money from us. But Kaiser’s scare tactics won’t work because our top priority has always been about improving access to care so our patients don’t have to wait two months for appointments.