Press Release: Kaiser mental health clinicians reject contract proposals; call for immediate resumption of bargaining

July 11th, 2019

Approximately 4,000 mental health clinicians and other medical professionals who work at Kaiser Permanente facilities across California, have resoundingly rejected Kaiser’s contract offers. In voting that took place at more than 100 Kaiser medical locations statewide over the past three weeks, 88 percent of workers voted against the contracts, in a strong demonstration of support for the position recommended by their union bargaining committees.

“Kaiser has acknowledged that it’s facing a mental health crisis, but its proposals didn’t offer clinicians meaningful solutions to provide timely, adequate care for patients,” said Clement Papazian, a Kaiser licensed clinical social worker. “We could not support a contract that offered no significant immediate relief for unsustainable caseloads and longer waits than ever for care.”

In June, the clinicians, who include psychologists, social workers, therapists, and psychiatric nurses, called off an open-ended strike in response to the leaders of the State Senate and State Assembly, who requested that they continue trying to settle a new contract without another work stoppage. Caregivers called for the resumption of bargaining, but Kaiser responded to the legislators’ request by reiterating a “best” offer that opened the door to long-term labor management collaboration on improving mental health services, but failed to provide meaningful immediate relief for understaffed clinics.

The clinicians, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, are calling on Kaiser to resume negotiations immediately, work with them to determine additional staffing needs for every clinic, and begin filling those positions. They are also requesting that Kaiser establish crisis teams at each clinic and provide clinicians with enough time to perform patient care duties such as responding to patient calls and emails that too often must be done outside working hours.

“We’re asking for Kaiser to provide the same quality care for patients seeking mental health treatment as it does for patients seeking medical care,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “That should not be difficult to accomplish for an HMO that reported a $3.2 billion net profit in the first three months of this year.”

As it became clear that workers were overwhelmingly rejecting Kaiser’s offer, Kaiser recently announced that it was posting 300 mental health positions across the state.

“While this could be a meaningful step forward, we need more information about these jobs and a commitment from Kaiser to work with clinicians in determining how many new clinicians are needed and how they should be deployed to best meet the needs of patients,” Rosselli said. “That can’t happen until Kaiser returns to the bargaining table.”

Kaiser has been cited repeatedly by state regulators for failing to provide timely mental health care and remains under state-ordered outside monitoring of its mental health services. Since workers struck for five days in December 2018 , wait times for therapy appointments have gotten longer with some clinics now making patients wait more than three months for return appointments to see their therapists. On Wednesday, Kaiser clinicians held a one-day strike in San Francisco, where understaffing has forced Kaiser’s only clinic in the city to eliminate 70 percent of its group therapy programs and make children wait four to six weeks for their first face-to-face appointment. Before the one-day strike had ended, Kaiser management informed NUHW that it was prepared to work with caregivers to address the staffing shortages in the clinic.

Kaiser workers are divided into three bargaining units, all of which rejected Kaiser’s contract proposals by huge margins. Mental health clinicians in Kaiser’s Northern California region voted 92 percent to reject Kaiser’s offer. Mental health clinicians in Kaiser’s Southern California region voted 86 percent to reject a similar offer. A smaller unit of medical professionals in Southern California voted 82 percent to reject their proposed contract. Overall, 88 percent of Kaiser members rejected the proposals.