Three Kaiser contracts ratified, one more to go

California Pacific Medical CenterDecember 21, 2015

After a five-year struggle, members in three of NUHW’s four Kaiser units have ratified contracts and negotiations to settle the fourth are underway.

NUHW’s Integrated Behavioral Health Services unit of Northern California mental health clinicians voted 94 percent to ratify their contract December 5. The Psych-Social unit of Southern California mental health clinicians and medical social workers voted by 87 percent to ratify their contract December 18, and the Southern California dietitians, health educators, audiologists, and speech pathologists that comprise the Health Care Professionals unit voted 91 percent to ratify their contract. Members of the Optical unit in Northern California hope to soon resolve a dispute with Kaiser over the contract workers accepted earlier this year.

NUHW’s IBHS chapter of 1,400 Northern California Kaiser mental health clinicians — psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and psychiatric RNs — won on their three central issues: staffing, wages, and pensions.

In fact, after five years and several strikes, they won a contract that benefits not only their patients, but their fellow Kaiser workers in 30 other unions too.

An eleventh-hour tentative agreement averted an open-ended strike scheduled to begin November 16 at fifty Northern California facilities. 

The tentative agreement includes an unprecedented scheduling ratio — one new-patient appointment per four returning-patient appointments — that will allow clinicians to see returning patients more frequently. Kaiser will be required to hire more clinicians if it can’t meet the ratio for three months.

Clinicians will be free to continue their patient advocacy efforts; the agreement gives them access to binding arbitration for unjust disciplines and terminations. “We still have a long way to go to achieve mental health parity at Kaiser, and in the country as a whole,” said Clement Papazian, IBHS president and a psychiatric social worker at Kaiser’s Oakland Medical Center, in a story he published in Labor Notes, “but this agreement is a good first step.”

As part of the deal, Kaiser settled comparable contracts for the Psych-Social and Health Care Professionals in Southern California and negotiations are underway in the Optical unit. Earlier this year, Optical workers accepted an offer from Kaiser that included retro pay, only to see Kaiser later renege on the deal. The National Labor Relations Board agreed with NUHW that Kaiser had acted illegally by failing to honor the agreement and the NLRB is scheduled to go to trail against Kaiser in January unless Kaiser settles sooner as promised.