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Kaiser Permanente Employees Strike for Improved Mental Healthcare System

About 4,000 mental healthcare workers are striking in California, amid an on-going labor dispute. Dozens plan to strike in Kearny Mesa, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Thousands of Kaiser Permanente employees are striking across California this week, amid an on-going labor dispute.

Dozens of mental healthcare workers marched in front of the Kaiser Permanente in Kearny Mesa on Monday. Employees plan to strike for the next five days and told NBC 7 they want better care for their patients.

Health professionals, like Jim Clifford, a therapist, said the mental health department is understaffed. He said it takes up to two months before some of his patients can secure an appointment.

"In order to fix this problem, we need to bring public attention to the issue", Clifford said.

Clifford is one of about 4,000 employees striking in California. Representatives for Kaiser and the National Union of Healthcare Workers have been working on bargaining on an agreement for more than a year but have not been able to reach a compromise.

This is the crisis of our time and mental health

Michelle Fogle, psychiatric social clinician

Fogle said, recently, representatives with Kaiser proposed an agreement, but the union shut it down.

"They were unwilling, at all, to talk about giving us the same kinds of benefits they've given to the other unions," said Fogle.

Fogle said Kaiser representatives were not willing to agree on “fair” wages, pensions or discussions over indirect patient care time. A spokesperson with Kaiser sent NBC 7 the following statement, reading in part:

“A strike does nothing to help our important work to advance care, nor does it help us achieve a mutually beneficial contract.”

Fogle said she doesn’t know when the union and Kaiser representatives will return to the bargaining table but hopes their voices are being heard.

Full Statement from Kaiser Permanente:

Despite the National Union of Healthcare Worker's (NUHW) decision to strike, it is important our members know that our hospitals and medical offices remain open. Our commitment to patients comes first. We are working hard to deliver the high-quality care and services members and patients need. Anyone in need of urgent mental health or other care will receive the services they require. Where necessary, we will call members to reschedule some non-urgent appointments. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this unnecessary strike.

We have been jointly working with an external, neutral mediator to help us reach a collective bargaining agreement with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). The mediator recently delivered a proposed compromise to both sides that we are seriously considering; however, the union has rejected it and announced plans to strike instead of working through the mediated process.

This is NUHW's sixth noticed strike within a single year. We believe that NUHW's repeated call for short strikes is disruptive to patient access, operational care and service and is frankly irresponsible.  Although Kaiser Permanente will make every effort to minimize patient disruption, due to the strike we may be forced to reschedule appointments and devote valuable resources needed elsewhere in our organization to instead address the continuity of care for our members and address any urgent patient care issues.

A strike does nothing to help our important work to advance care, nor does it help us achieve a mutually beneficial contract. All it does is put our members in the middle of bargaining, which is not fair to them, especially during the holidays when rates of depression can spike and our patients are counting on their caregivers to be there.

Rather than calling for a strike, we ask that NUHW's leadership continue to engage with the mediator and Kaiser Permanente to resolve these issues.

- Annie Russell, Chief Operating Officer, Southern California Permanente Medical Group.

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