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Mental health therapists at Kaiser Permanente to strike on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Press ReleasesJanuary 13, 2022

Mental health therapists at Kaiser Permanente to strike on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

 Therapists are striking to protest Kaiser breaking its promise to make MLK Day a paid holiday in 2022 and to demand that Kaiser take action to provide culturally-responsive mental health care to communities of color

All strike activity will take place in Oakland, including a picket line outside Kaiser’s Oakland Medical Center and protest outside Kaiser’s corporate headquarters

OAKLAND — Nearly 200 Kaiser psychologists, social workers, addiction counselors and marriage and family therapists in Oakland and Richmond are striking Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in response to Kaiser executives breaking their promise to make the King holiday a paid holiday for mental health clinicians this year. 

“Kaiser treats mental health care as separate and unequal to its medical care,” said Sabrina Chaumette, a social worker, who is one of only five Black mental health clinicians providing care to adult Kaiser patients in Oakland. “I appreciate that my clinic asks patients if they want to work with therapists who can provide culturally responsive care, but at Kaiser we just don’t have the numbers to do it. Because we’re so understaffed, my next available intake appointment is in four months.”

WHAT: Nearly 200 psychologists, social workers, addiction counselors and marriage and family therapists at Kaiser’s Oakland and Richmond clinics will walk picket lines and march through Downtown Oakland to Kaiser corporate headquarters. 

WHERE/WHEN

  • At 8 a.m. the picket line will form outside the Kaiser Oakland Medical Center, 3600 Broadway.  
  • At 10:30 a.m., workers will march down Broadway to Kaiser corporate headquarters, The Ordway Building, 1 Kaiser Plaza. 
  • At 11:30 a.m. workers will hold a rally with community allies and elected leaders outside the Ordway Building, 1 Kaiser Plaza. Strike activity will end after the rally, and there will be no strike activity in Richmond.

In the wake of the 2020 George Floyd murder, Black mental health clinicians at Kaiser’s Oakland and Richmond clinics approached Kaiser management to address structural racism within the HMO, which has resulted in many clinicians of color leaving Kaiser, further depriving patients of culturally competent care. 

In response to appeals from clinicians in Oakland and Richmond, Kaiser agreed last March to make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a paid holiday for all mental health clinicians in Northern California in 2022. However, on Dec. 1, Michael Nava, Kaiser’s director of East Bay Behavioral Health, emailed clinicians, backtracking on previous commitments:

“Our management team communicated to our department that MLK was going to be a paid holiday for 2022… However, we failed to confirm if it was actually finalized. Only recently we learned that it is not. 

After the clinicians voted nearly unanimously last week to strike, Kaiser CEO Greg Adams announced that Kaiser will honor Dr. King’s birthday as a paid holiday for all Kaiser employees, but not until 2023. While the clinicians see this move as a victory, they are proceeding with the strike.

“Kaiser pays a lot of lip service to racial justice, but when it comes to taking action, it’s always ‘wait till next year,’” Chaummette said. “If Kaiser can’t even keep its promise about honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, how can we trust that it will ever take action to address structural racism in its ranks.” 

A recent survey of more than 1,500 Kaiser employees represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers found that 62 percent of non-white workers reported experiencing racism on the job and 37 percent of all workers surveyed reported witnessing racism toward their patients. Additionally, 41 percent of all respondents reported having patients who struggled to access or maintain treatment because they could not be seen by a culturally-competent provider. 28 percent of all respondents reported having had patients who could not access treatment in their primary language.

“Kaiser tries to present itself as an enlightened organization, but that’s not the experience for Black and Brown therapists or patients,” said Jessica Dominguez, the founder and lead clinician at Kaiser Permanente’s La Clínica, a program in Richmond that serves Spanish speaking residents. “We see an organization that won’t even take the smallest step to confront structural racism and shows no urgency to stop the continued departures of clinicians of color who can provide all of Kaiser’s patients with culturally competent care.” 

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The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-led movement representing 15,000 healthcare workers, including more than 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians in California and Hawaii.