NUHW members honored for 2022 Kaiser strike

NewsApril 28, 2024

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The San Francisco Labor Council honored NUHW as its “Affiliate Champion” during an April 25 ceremony in recognition of the 10-week strike that mental health therapists waged against Kaiser Permanente.

More than a dozen therapists were on hand to receive the award. Elected officials, including San Francisco supervisors and state legislators, stopped by their table to thank the workers for their resiliency on the picket line and winning a contract that is forcing Kaiser to finally make significant improvements to its mental health services in Northern California.

“It was a great night,” said Shay Loftus, a psychologist at Kaiser and an NUHW executive board member. “I’m so proud of our strike and what we accomplished. It meant so much to have community leaders thank us for striking and let us know how much they appreciate that we took a stand for our patients and mental health care.”

During the banquet, Loftus spoke about NUHW’s 13-year struggle to improve access to mental healthcare at the state’s largest HMO.

Kristi Reimer, who’s also a Kaiser psychologist and NUHW board member, spoke about the decision workers made to strike when Kaiser only offered more money instead of better access to care — and the sacrifices they made to remain on strike for 10 weeks.

Ultimately, the therapists agreed to a contract that includes:

  • Nearly two additional hours to perform patient care duties.
  • A commitment by Kaiser to hire more therapists.
  • More pay for bilingual therapists.
  • A series of labor-management committees that have agreed to expand crisis services to all Kaiser clinics, increase the amount of time therapists have for initial assessments of children and ease caseloads for generalists.

In addition to the contract, the strike had major repercussions for Kaiser that should ultimately result in much better care for patients. A state investigation found that Kaiser canceled 11,803 individual and group appointments during the strike, affecting 63,808 members.

Those findings contributed to a Settlement Agreement between Kaiser and the state that requires Kaiser to pay a $50 million fine for violating state mental health law, spend $150 million on programs to improve access to mental health care in the state and produce a Corrective Action Plan for remedying all the deficiencies in its mental healthcare services identified by the state investigation.

“We’re seeing a difference every day,” Reimer said. “There’s a lot more that needs to be done, but the situation in Northern California is getting better for patients and for us as mental health professionals, and they wouldn’t be the case if we hadn’t gone on strike.”