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Kaiser Permanente's unionized mental health workers begin 5-day strike

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After postponing a five-day statewide strike last month in deference to the sudden passing of Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson, the National Union of Healthcare Workers said approximately 4,000 unionized mental health care workers will hit the picket lines for a week starting Monday.

In the North Bay, picketing will take place on Wednesday at Santa Rosa Medical Center and on Friday at Kaiser’s San Rafael medical offices and Vacaville Medical Center, according to the union.

The two entities have been at the bargaining table since June 2018 in an effort to reach an agreement on a four-year contract that would resolve what the union contends are Kaiser’s staffing shortages and excessive work hours, timely care for patients in need of mental health treatment, as well as inadequate pay and benefits.

The union held a strike in December 2018, then in July 2019 rejected Kaiser’s proposal for a new contract, which was followed in August by what Kaiser called its “last, best and final offer.”

NUHW and Kaiser then began working with a mediator to help them reach a collective bargaining agreement, but both parties on Friday issued statements confirming the union had rejected a proposed compromise.

NUHW stated in a news release Friday that the “five-day strike (is intended) to demand that Kaiser demonstrate good faith and fix its broken mental health system that leaves patients waiting months for appointments and therapists overwhelmed with crushing caseloads.”

Kaiser, in its statement, said that despite the strike, its first commitment is to patients and that its hospitals and medical offices will remain open.

“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,” Michelle J. Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president, Hospital and Health Plan Operations – Northern California Kaiser Permanente, said in a statement. “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.”

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