June 10, 2019

Mental health workers strike called off

The proposed strike by mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities that had been set for Tuesday, June 11, has been called off.

All our hospitals and medical offices will be open, and we’ve taken steps to make sure our patients continue to receive high-quality mental health and other health care services.

Kaiser Permanente and the union representing mental health workers, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, were engaged throughout the past weekend, through a neutral facilitator, to address the outstanding issues on the bargaining table and seek resolution. As we have communicated to our employees and others, we have addressed the key issues raised by labor and management.

We are pleased that the NUHW strike has been called off; it was the responsible thing to do. 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.

A key part of the negotiations over the past several months has been working collaboratively with therapists to address the increase in demand for mental health services. We and our therapists agree that the growing demand cannot be met just by hiring more therapists. So over the past few months, we’ve developed a comprehensive plan to take immediate, short-term, and long-term steps to do even more to address the growing demand for mental health care.

Many of these provisions cannot be put into motion until our new contract agreement is ratified by our mental health professionals. We urge union leaders to work constructively on securing a ratified agreement so we can focus on the critically important work that lies ahead.

The union’s call for therapists to walk away from patients was unnecessary. It is deeply disturbing that the union leadership would be so willing to sacrifice the needs of our patients as bargaining chips. We spent more than $20 million to take the right steps to prepare for the risk a strike might have caused our patients — money which would have been much better spent addressing the challenges in mental health care.

During bargaining, we have been constructive and transparent, and have listened to our therapists’ concerns. Unfortunately, the union leadership has at times mischaracterized our proposals.

We remain committed to responsibly reaching a new contract agreement, which is what our therapists and patients deserve. Key elements of our proposal include:

  • Market-Leading Compensation. Our bargaining proposals ensure Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals continue to remain among the highest paid in California. The majority of Kaiser Permanente psychologists earn at least $135,000 or more annually, and social workers at least $109,000 or more. Under our offer, therapists could receive an additional $35,000 to $49,000 in pay over 3 years, and that doesn’t include thousands more in student loan repayment, future tuition reimbursement, increased retirement and dental benefits, and more.
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  • Adding More Resources. We have increased the number of therapists by over 30% since 2015, and we acknowledge that demand has continued to escalate. We have put on the table additional ways to address staffing which will make a meaningful, immediate improvement to meet the growing demand.
  • Designing the Future of Care. We’ve also proposed creating an intensive work group of therapists and management, to advance innovation and evidence-based practice in our model of care. We believe — as do our therapists — that the dramatic increase in mental health care demand cannot be fully met without changes in the way mental health services are provided.
  • More Treatment Locations. We are accelerating our ongoing $700-million project to expand and enhance our mental health care treatment facilities, with the goal of making mental health care more available and improving access in environments that offer our patients convenience, comfort, and privacy.
  • Growing the Workforce. We also are moving forward with several initiatives totaling $50 million that will increase the number of people who are entering mental health professions. This includes tuition assistance for our current employees, fellowships and residencies for future hires, and grants to expand capacity in degree programs, with an emphasis in graduating bilingual and/or diverse students who reflect community needs. We are also committing $6 million to encourage our therapists’ engagement in clinical research to further develop evidence-based treatment and outcomes.

We are absolutely committed to our mental health professionals’ success, and have a deep appreciation for the essential care they provide our patients and members every day. We are very pleased that the Kaiser Permanente mental health and other health professionals who are represented by NUHW have rejected the union’s demand that they walk away from patients.