Healthcare Workers Union Calls Off Kaiser Permanente Strike at Request of State Legislative Leaders

Workers in East Pasadena earlier staged show-of-strenth one day strike

Published : Tuesday, June 11, 2019 | 5:03 AM

On April 25, 2019, Kaiser Permanente mental health therapists staged a one-day walkout outside their offices at 3280 E Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.

It was, in labor relations parlance, the strike that never was…tentatively.

Some 4,000 mental health workers statewide (psychologists, social workers, therapists), who have been at loggerheads with Pasadena-based Kaiser Permanente for months, voted June 9 to call off a strike scheduled for June 11.

The unanimous vote came in response to a challenge posed by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D), and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D), to negotiators for Kaiser Permanente and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Expressing “deep concern” about an “extraordinarily disruptive” strike, the legislators called upon both parties, “to immediately sit down and continue to negotiate in good faith, regardless of how long that might take, until an agreement is reached.”

The mental health workers have already staged a one-day strike in East Pasadena, largely for informational purposes and, more than likely, as a show of strength.

Although the strike is off, tentatively, there will be mental health parity rallies at noon on June 12, in front of the state capitol building, and before the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles.

From the beginning, the union has focused its public remarks not on salary or benefits, but what it says are anemic staffing levels that are negatively impacting the health of patients and have reportedly led to long waits for consultations.

“Kaiser for the first time has finally acknowledged to its clinicians that its mental health system is in crisis,” said NUHW President Sal Roselli. “That is a positive step. But its proposals will not bring the needed immediate relief for patients who have to wait weeks or months to see their therapists.”

But Kaiser Permanente said in negotiations the union has sought to reduce the number of patients its therapists see each day.

Kaiser Permanente also said the union has pushed for higher wages and greater benefits as its primary bargaining goals.

The distance between parties is palpable.

Roselli said the ball is in Kaiser’s court, but that it is refusing to meet with the union, and that if that doesn’t change, the current proposal will be put before the membership with a recommendation it be voted down.

Kaiser Permanente’s response seemed at odds with Roselli’s assertion. The company said that talks went on through last weekend with the help of a private mediator and added that key issues raised by labor and management had been addressed.

“We are pleased that the NUHW strike has been called off; it was the responsible thing to do,” John Nelson, vice president of communications for the healthcare provider. “We credit this decision to our therapists, who have been providing leadership at the table and representing the voice of our employees in all these discussions.”

Nelson said the call to strike was “unnecessary,” and that the company had to spend $20 million to cover the eventualities of such a job action, “money which could have been much better spent addressing the challenges in mental health care.”

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