NUHW members in Hawai’i entering fourth month of strike against Kaiser Permanente
NUHW-represented mental health professionals in Hawaii are now in the fourth month of an open-ended strike against Kaiser Permanente more determined than ever to make the giant HMO address a severe understaffing crisis that makes patients wait months for therapy.
The 53 psychologists, social workers, chemical dependency counselors and psychiatric nurses are now engaged in the longest strike by mental healthcare workers in U.S. history. Their struggle to make Kaiser provide fair treatment for its mental health clinicians and patients in Hawai’i is continuing to win support from local elected and labor leaders.
On October 31, community leaders joined the strikers outside Kaiser’s corporate offices in Honolulu to express outrage that Kaiser is demanding that its clinicians in Hawai’i accept significantly poorer wages and benefits than what the HMO has agreed to pay in California. Shortly before Thanksgiving, State Sen. Kurt Fevella joined with elected and labor leaders to host a fundraiser for the workers.
“Everyone should be outraged by Kaiser’s second-class treatment of its Hawai’i mental health therapists and patients,” State Sen. Laura Acasio said shortly before the October 31 rally. “Hawai’i is an afterthought to Kaiser, and the only way to change that is to support our striking therapists and demand equal treatment.”
Last month, Kaiser settled a 10-week strike by NUHW-represented mental healthcare workers in Northern California, reaching an agreement that included significant improvements for therapists and the patients they serve. In stark contrast, Kaiser has dug in its heels in Hawai’i, refusing to address its understaffing crisis and has made matters worse by insisting that its therapists in Hawai’i also accept far lower wages and poorer benefits than their counterparts in Northern California.
The strike by therapists in Hawai’i began August 29. After several of the strikers resigned from Kaiser recently, Kaiser maintains a ratio of less than 1 therapist for every 4,600 Kaiser members in Hawai’i. In comparison, the ratio is 1 therapist for every 2,300 Kaiser members in Northern California.
Even though Hawai’i has the nation’s highest cost of living, the HMO is insisting on paying most therapists in Northern California at least 20 percent more in starting salaries than their counterparts in Hawai’i and even more to stay with Kaiser long term.
Kaiser is also demanding to eliminate pension benefits for new hires and refusing to consider patient care improvements that it agreed to in Northern California, including more time for clinicians to perform essential patient care duties and an expansion of crisis care services.
“Kaiser is not treating Hawai’i on par with California, and that is not OK,” said Andrea Kumura, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser’s Waipio Clinic. “We haven’t asked for everything Kaiser now provides in Northern California. What we’re asking for is modest and affordable. Kaiser simply refuses to provide adequate mental health care in Hawai’i and doesn’t want to change. They want to shortchange the people of Hawai’i.”