Kaiser workers strike, saying healthcare giant 'dishonors the memory of Dr. King'

A strike is being held Monday by psychologists, therapists, and social workers at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland and Richmond, because the healthcare giant doesn't recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday for them, union officials said.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers said their workers should have the day off and complained that Kaiser isn't providing enough culturally-sensitive care to communities of color.

"It was Dr. King’s persistent advocacy and determination that helped desegregate hospitals," said Sabrina Chaumette, a social worker at Kaiser in Oakland. 

"For Kaiser to still refuse to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday in 2022 is disrespectful to our communities and dishonors the memory of Dr. King and his legacy," Chaumette continued. "Kaiser’s executives talk a good game when it comes to social justice, but they don’t practice what they preach." 

In a statement to KTVU, Kaiser said they think it is unfortunate that NUHW is using this important topic as a tactic to try to gain leverage in bargaining. 

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"It is especially disappointing that they are asking our dedicated and compassionate employees to walk away from patients who need us," the statement said. "Every time we are in contract negotiations with NUHW, they strike, and this time is no different." 

For other employees represented by other unions within Kaiser Permanente, the organization has used the MLK holiday as a day of service to others, and has "given hundreds of thousands of hours to community service, as part of this celebration," the company said. 

Beginning in 2023, MLK Day will be a paid holiday for employees, Kaiser said. 

The organization cited "operational factors that go into planning and implementing a new paid holiday, including ensuring our members will be able to access needed care," for delaying the implementation until next year.

Jessica Dominguez, a Chicana therapist at Kaiser Permanente La Clinica in Richmond, said there was ample time to implement it this year.

"Frankly, it's infuriating," Dominguez said. "They had so many months, this is not something that was just out of the blue that we asked for," Dominguez said, noting that therapists had been asking since May 2020 for MLK Day and Juneteenth to be paid company holidays.

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Chaumette noted that delayed recognition of MLK Day for Kaiser Permanente therapists has resulted in fewer Black therapists wanting to work for Kaiser Permanente, and others choosing to leave. Eight percent of Kaiser Permanente therapists are Black, higher than the national average, but not high enough to meet the needs of Black patients, Chaumette said.

"We lose Black therapists and therapists of color," Chaumette said. "I call us sometimes The Supremes because I'm usually one of three."