Kaiser Permanente, unionized mental health care clinicians fail to reach a deal

The National Union of Healthcare Workers on Wednesday night rejected a new contract covering Kaiser Permanente's 4,000 unionized mental health clinicians in the state.

Voting at more than 100 Kaiser medical locations statewide, 88% of workers voted against the contract, according to the union. In Northern California, the number was 92%.

The two entities have been at the bargaining table for more than a year in an effort to reach an agreement in what the union has contended is Kaiser's unacceptable contract proposal to resolve staffing shortages, inadequate pay, and timely care for patients in need of mental health treatment.

“We're asking for Kaiser to provide the same quality care for patients seeking mental health treatment as it does for patients seeking medical care,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “That should not be difficult to accomplish for an HMO that reported a $3.2 billion net profit in the first three months of this year.”

Kaiser has not yet commented Thursday, but issued a lengthy statement yesterday in anticipation of the official contract rejection.

“We have been disappointed by the decision of NUHW leadership to urge the rejection of the contract proposal and effectively postpone the improvements we agree need to be made immediately,” said John Nelson, vice president of communications, Kaiser Permanente.

Nelson said Kaiser is moving forward with “unprecedented investments” to further advance its mental health care. Plans include hiring more than 300 therapists, accelerating the health care system's investments of $700 million in mental health facilities and committing more than $50 million in the next three years to increase the number of people entering and remaining in the mental health professions – including $30 million in tuition assistance for its current employees.

“Despite these steps forward, we know more must be done to help our patients,” Nelson said. “For the past year, we have been in bargaining with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) … During negotiations, we have presented a comprehensive offer that addresses our therapists' concerns and includes guaranteed wage increases that would keep them among the highest paid in California.”

Sal Rosselli, NUHW president, said the union is aware that Kaiser plans to add 300 mental health positions across the state.

“While this could be a meaningful step forward, we need more information about these jobs and a commitment from Kaiser to work with clinicians in determining how many new clinicians are needed and how they should be deployed to best meet the needs of patients,” Rosselli said. “That can't happen until Kaiser returns to the bargaining table.”

Check back for further updates.

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