Mental health clinicians and other medical employees of Pasadena-based Kaiser Permanente in California have rejected the company’s latest contract offer, their union said July 11.
Some 4,000 Kaiser employees represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) voted on the proposal with 88 percent choosing to reject.
According to the union, the voting took place at more than 100 Kaiser locations in California over the past three weeks.
“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 Rosetti said in a statement announcing the vote. “That should not be difficult to accomplish for a [Health Maintenance Organization] that reported $3.2 billion net profit in the first three months of this year.”
NUHW has called upon Kaiser to return to the negotiating table, “immediately.”
For months, the union has characterized the extended and contentious contract negotiations as being over the insufficient level of staffing in mental health departments at Kaiser’s California facilities. They conducted a one-day strike in East Pasadena over the issue.
Kaiser has always rejected the union’s narrative, countering that NUHW is after wages and benefits and using its expressed concern for the HMO’s mental health patients as a smokescreen for that underlying reality.
The union’s demands at the negotiating table, the healthcare provider said, would actually work to the detriment of the mental health patients.
Perhaps anticipating the contract’s defeat, Kaiser released a statement ahead of the union’s announcement to that effect.
While expressing disappointment at the union leadership’s recommendation that the rank-and-file reject the proposal, Kaiser said it was “moving forward with unprecedented investments to further advance our mental health care.”
The company bemoaned misinformation circulating regarding its proposal and said it wanted to “set the record straight.”
That entailed a discussion of extensive plans for staffing, space and workforce development in the mental health arena.
To that end, Kaiser said it has hired in excess of 500 new mental health therapists in recent years. The company said it has expanded its collaborations with “high quality community providers” to ensure sufficient levels of care.
Additionally, the company said it has initiated a wave of expansions and upgrades to its mental health treatment locations at a cost of $700 million.
“Without a ratified contract, however,” the company said, “we cannot move forward with the many provisions in our contract proposal which would address the personal and professional interest of our employees and relieve many of their immediate concerns and daily challenges.”