Kaiser responds to mental health professionals threatening to strike

Kaiser Permanente on Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara, Calif., on Oct. 6, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

Amid strike threats from mental health care workers, Kaiser Permanente urges their employees to reject any call for a strike as they work through the bargaining process of a new agreement.

The message comes after nearly 2,000 psychologists, therapists and social workers in Kaiser Permanente's Northern California division voted to strike in response to alleged union proposal rejections from the National Union of Healthcare Workers and understaffing concerns. 

In a statement released Thursday evening, the Health Maintenance Organization said though this strike calls for more staffing, the issue at hand more so lies in how much therapists are paid. 

"We understand that NUHW is now threatening to strike - a bargaining tactic this union has used every time it is bargaining for a new contract with Kaiser Permanente, over the past 11 years of its existence," Arlene Peasnall, senior vice president of human resources at Kaiser Permanente, said in a statement. "We are still bargaining and are committed to resolving the issues and reaching an agreement." 

The need for mental health services has far exceeded the amount of clinicians before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the demand has only exceeded as the nation went into lockdown, Kaiser said. 

Kaiser said they hired hundreds of clinicians over the past five years and has over 300 job postings available. Kaiser also pointed to their $30 million investment to train new mental health clinicians in California. 

"We have the greatest respect and gratitude for our mental health professionals and we are dedicated to supporting them in their important work," Peasnall wrote. "In addition to working with us to improve access to high quality mental health care, we are asking NUHW to work constructively to help address future costs to ensure we continue to be affordable for our members."

Kaiser also stated that increased wages can make health care increasingly expensive and inaccessible for its members. 

"The challenge we are trying to address is that if we continue to increase costs so high above the marketplace, our members will not be able to afford to get the care they need. We have to work together to address this challenge in a way that honors and rewards our employees and recognizes the increasing difficulty our members and customers face in paying for care," Peasnall stated.

The union and Kaiser Permanente will continue to bargain in the next week.

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