October 14, 2019

Kaiser Permanente statement on status of NUHW bargaining

It is time to bring this negotiation to a close and return our full focus to improving mental health for our members and the communities we serve.

A statement by John Nelson, vice president, Kaiser Permanente Communications

“We would like to bring these negotiations to a close and return our full focus to improving mental health for our members and the communities we serve, rather than on corporate campaigns and threats of work stoppages. It is time for NUHW leaders to accept our proposals, which offer highly competitive wages and benefits and professional development opportunities, and are built on the same principles that guide all our labor agreements.

We have made significant progress to address the national crisis in mental health care: we’ve hired hundreds of new therapists; we are building dozens of new treatment facilities; and we are investing millions of dollars to help more people enter the mental health professions. We can’t do more without collaborating with our therapists, and for that we need a new contract with NUHW.”


Additional background information

Kaiser Permanente has been engaged in contract negotiations with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) — the union that represents about 4,000 of our mental health care and other professionals — for more than a year. For several months, the leadership of NUHW has insisted they would not agree to a new contract until they saw the details of the agreement reached with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions. We did not support this delay by NUHW leadership but have since reached a tentative agreement with the Coalition.

In fact, we’ve reached contract agreements with the Coalition, the Alliance of Health Care Unions, the California Nurses Association, and several others in the past 2 years. While components of these agreements differ, all are aligned around our key principles: providing highly competitive wages and benefits, offering significant professional development opportunities, and seeking to make Kaiser Permanente a great place to work and receive care.

Our contract proposals to NUHW are fully aligned with these same principles and have been in the hands of NUHW union leaders since mid-June — more than 100 days.

We expected NUHW leaders would quickly confirm that our proposal to their union was fair and mutually beneficial and could now be approved. Instead, NUHW leadership is launching a new round of reputational attacks against Kaiser Permanente.

These new attacks are continued bargaining tactics designed to extract more from the organization. We will not be pressured into any agreement that does not align with our key principles.

These divisive bargaining tactics are not only unnecessary, they are counterproductive. We have moved forward with many of the commitments we made to our California therapists earlier this year to address the dramatic increase in demand for mental health care, as well as improve their professional practice and our patients’ experiences. These include:

  • Hiring more than 400 additional mental health professionals across the state this year
  • Allocating more than 10 million dollars to expand our postgraduate training programs
  • Investing more than 30 million dollars to advance the education and experience of our therapists and others seeking to practice in the mental health profession
  • Accelerating our work to add new offices for mental health providers as part of a $700 million investment over the next several years

There is much more we can do together, but without a ratified contract, we cannot move forward with our other initiatives that will address and relieve many more of the immediate concerns and daily challenges of our employees. These include our proposals to improve scheduling, increase compensation (both pay and benefits), provide student loan repayments, and other contract provisions.

Just as important, it also means we are delayed in launching our collaborative work group of therapists and management to advance innovation and redesign the way psychotherapy is delivered in the future. We and our therapists agree that the current challenges in mental health care in America today cannot be met only by hiring more therapists. In addition to addressing staffing and scheduling improvements, therefore, we have proposed (and union negotiators in Southern California already accepted) a 6-month intensive, collaborative work group to redesign the mental health model of care. This work group will focus on developing innovative approaches to using feedback-informed care; enhancing our ability to provide effective, evidenced-based care; and integrating exciting new approaches to care, including telehealth and digital therapeutics. This is an effort our therapists have supported and expressed a strong desire to undertake together.

There’s no other way to say this: The union’s bargaining tactics are delaying mental health care improvements. Union leadership is putting its demands ahead of making real changes to benefit our patients.

We’ve been through this before. The last time the leadership of NUHW engaged in bargaining with Kaiser Permanente, they put off reaching a contract agreement for nearly 5 years. For our patients’ sake and the benefit of our employees, we hope NUHW leadership does not intend to repeat this terrible approach.

Kaiser Permanente is absolutely committed to meeting our members’ needs. We have a deep appreciation for the essential care our therapists provide every day and are just as committed to our mental health professionals’ success. We urge NUHW leaders to work constructively to reach an agreement, so we can work together with our therapists on the critically important work that lies ahead.

Highlights of Kaiser Permanente’s contract proposal for NUHW

Through our discussions with the union in bargaining earlier this year, we made tremendous progress to address our therapists’ immediate concerns and daily challenges that have been of greatest interest.

Our contract proposal: 

  • Addresses staffing and scheduling concerns with concrete increases in hiring more therapists, interim staff and support staff, and proposed scheduling changes. Together, these will address both immediate, and mid- to long-term staffing and access challenges.
  • Includes significant investments to increase the number of people entering mental health care professions, and those staying and growing in their chosen fields.
  • Proposes a collaborative work group to redesign the mental health model of care — an effort that our therapists have supported and expressed a strong desire to undertake together.
  • Would keep our therapists among the best compensated in California. Across California, the majority of Kaiser Permanente psychologists earn at least $135,000 or more, and social workers at least $109,000 or more. Under our offer, therapists could receive a total of $35,000 to $49,000 in additional pay over 3 years.

After more than a year of bargaining and months of stalling, it’s time for union leadership to bring this negotiation to a close, agree to a mutually beneficial new contract, and allow our mental health providers to return their full focus to improving mental health for our members and the communities we serve.