The National Union of Healthcare Workers has called for an open-ended strike to begin on Monday, August 15, pulling nearly 2,000 mental health professionals away from their patients across Northern California. Despite the strike, we have plans in place to meet our members’ mental health needs.
Kaiser Permanente has been negotiating with the union for more than a year. There are 2 key issues we have been bargaining over: one is wage increases and the other is the union’s demand to increase the time therapists spend on tasks other than seeing patients.
The primary role — and essential need — for our therapists is to provide mental health care and treat our patients. The remaining issue being negotiated with NUHW is the amount of time therapists spend on administrative tasks such as documentation, planning, and other office activities rather than directly treating patients. In recognition of our therapists’ concerns and priorities, we have proposed an increase in the scheduled time allocated to administrative tasks, but the union is demanding still more administrative time.
As an example, under the current collective bargaining agreement, a 40-hour-per-week therapist whose only job is to provide patient therapy would spend 34 hours seeing patients, with 6 hours reserved for administrative tasks. We have proposed increasing the time for administrative tasks in this example to 7.2 hours, leaving 32.8 hours to see patients. The union is demanding 9 hours for administrative work, which would leave only 31 hours to see patients.
The union’s demand flies in the face of a 30% increase in demand for mental health care and NUHW’s own commitments to help improve access to mental health care. Our patients cannot afford a proposal that significantly reduces the time available to care for them and their mental health needs.
For the entirety of its 12 years of existence, NUHW has used the threat of strikes as a bargaining tactic in every contract negotiation. This will be the second time in a year the union has called on mental health providers to walk away from our patients.
We have the deepest appreciation and gratitude for our mental health professionals and the extraordinary care they provide to our members. We recently reached an agreement with the same union in Southern California for 1,900 mental health professionals.
Despite the union’s harmful tactics, we remain committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable agreement that is good for our therapists and our patients.
Across the country, there are not enough mental health care professionals to meet the increased demand for care. This has created challenges for Kaiser Permanente and mental health care providers everywhere. To meet the shortage of mental health practitioners, we have:
Despite all that we are doing, we, like others, are challenged to meet the demand and know more must be done. We are focused on continuing to find new ways to meet our members’ and patients’ mental health needs.
While NUHW is publicly advocating for increased patient access, the union is actually exploiting current challenges as a bargaining tactic. The union is well aware that its decision to strike is intended to hurt Kaiser Permanente’s ability to meet the needs of our patients: that is the point of the strike. The reality is that strikes, like the union’s proposal to reduce time for direct patient care, will only reduce access to our care, at a time of unprecedented demand. This strike is an unnecessary tactic to increase the union’s leverage at the bargaining table, making it harder, not easier, to deliver mental health care.
Kaiser Permanente has made it known we are prepared to meet with the union at any time and will continue bargaining in good faith. Our goal is to reach a fair and equitable agreement and bring this strike and our negotiations to a conclusion.
We are working hard to be ready to meet our patients’ mental health needs during the strike. Beginning this week, our patients will receive care from those mental health clinicians who choose patient needs over the strike, as well as from our psychiatrists, clinical managers, and other licensed professionals.
We have also expanded our network of high-quality community providers and will continue to prioritize urgent and emergency care. Some nonurgent appointments may need to be rescheduled. Any patient whose appointment may be affected will be directly contacted prior to the date of the appointment to ensure they receive the care they need.