Kaiser mental health workers in Northern California share their experiences as strike enters third week (2023)

Kaiser mental health workers in Northern California share their experiences as strike enters third week (1)

Monday marks the beginning of the third week of the open-ended strike by 2,000 mental health workers at Kaiser in Northern California. It is among the latest in the struggles of health care workers in the US and around the world demanding better working conditions and improved patient care.

As the strike reaches its third week, therapists at Kaiser Hawai'i will begin another open-ended strike with the same demands. And on Thursday, about 21,000 Kaiser nurses and nurse practitioners who have been working without a contract since September of last year will hold a two-hour picket at several Northern California facilities and at Hollywood Medical Center in Los Angeles.

(Video) Kaiser Mental Health Workers Prepare to Strike in Northern California, Central Valley

The workers are demanding that Kaiser improve staffing and working conditions, both of which are preventing therapists from providing appropriate care to their patients. Due to understaffing, caseloads have ballooned, in some cases reaching 100 patients for a single therapist. Patients who must be seen every two weeks are asked to wait six to eight weeks for a repeat appointment. Moreover, Kaiser continues to pressure therapists to increase the number of patients they serve.

An Oakland therapist at the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). the unit which serves patients in crisis, told the World Socialist Web Site: “At the onset of a psychiatric crisis, it is somewhat possible to provide timely care. But scheduling the next session can take up to six to eight weeks. While we’re able to provide timely care through IOP, as caseload increases in adult care [where patients are referred after IOP], it puts a lot pressure on us.”

He indicated that Kaiser has not complied with a recent California law, SB-221, which requires mental health providers to make appointments available at least every two weeks to guarantee adequate care for repeat patients. This is nothing new. Kaiser has been regularly in violation of state regulations. In 2014, the health care giant was fined $4 million after state regulators ruled it failed to provide its members with timely access to mental health care services. The new law punishes each violation with a fine of $2,500. This amounts to pocket change for an institution that posted record profits of $8.1 billion last year.

When asked what he thought about Kaiser's most profitable year yet, he said, “It is obscene. These funds should be going to paying our salaries and hiring more therapists. We are crisis based, we need to give appointments. But if you can only see a patient every six to eight weeks it is very difficult to provide good care. We know at large that Kaiser is barely adequate for patients in crisis. But it becomes completely inadequate for them after [their initial intake]. These are people dealing with suicide, divorce issues, domestic problems. Their issues don’t go away after their time at the IOP and the follow-up support at Kaiser is completely inadequate. [Patients] need to talk about their suicidal thoughts, their divorce, their panic attacks. And Kaiser is woefully inadequate.”

(Video) Kaiser Mental Health Workers Go on Strike

He explained that COVID has compounded the stress that therapists face. “With the advent of remote therapy, clinicians are facing increased pressure. Before, you would get one or more no-shows a day. Now, no-shows have gone down. There’s no time to catch up, no buffer for us. Therapists are burned up. When caseloads balloon, there’s no cushion. We are super stressed because of that. Kaiser only gives us 15 percent of our time for IPT. The situation is obscene given the amount of profit Kaiser is making. The system’s gotta change.”

A therapist at Kaiser San Leandro told the WSWS that Kaiser keeps reducing the time allowed to be spent on indirect patient care (IPC). This is a critical component of patient care provided when the patient is not present. It consists of documentation of sessions, outreach and follow-up, responding to emails and communication with other patient caregivers. These tasks are particularly essential when a patient has a severe crisis. The limits on IPC have forced her to work through her lunch hour every day in order to follow up with her patients.

Another staff member with 30 years’ experience at San Leandro agreed that a major problem was insufficient time allocated for IPC. He makes calls at night after his kids are asleep. He stated that the reason Kaiser wants to reduce IPC is because it is not billable. He stated that Kaiser, by increasing caseloads, has been whittling away at hours spent documenting and following up over the last few years. He also made it clear that because of continual turnover, Kaiser is losing staff faster than it is bringing in new hires. The new hires must accrue clinical hours in order to get a license, and this requires oversight from a senior staffer, reducing the effective hours achieved with new hires.

Because the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) has not provided strike pay in the two weeks so far, one striker reported that staff in each hospital have created their own strike funds. These are being financed through GoFundMe, Twitter and Facebook, as well as voluntary monthly contributions from each worker. He contrasted Kaiser’s public commitment to “diversity” to their reduction of bilingual staffing—which causes difficulties in contacting the individuals who don’t speak English—and their position on not making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday. The latter has been a demand from staffers for years. Kaiser said in an announcement last year that they would be making it a paid holiday, only to withdraw the offer six months later, saying the announcement had been a mistake.

(Video) Kaiser mental health clinicians strike over quality of care

The NUHW is seeking to starve workers out on the picket line in order to force through a sellout. It is also focusing workers’ attention on fruitless appeals to the Democratic Party. Last week, a petition was submitted by the union leadership to California Governor Gavin Newsom, asking him to increase his involvement in the strike.

This is absurd, considering the deep ties between Kaiser and Governor Newsom. In 2020, Kaiser was the top donor of payments made on behalf of the Governor with $34.5 million in contributions. These so-called “behested payments” are a type of charitable donation that provides higher income tax deductions as well as anonymity. This helps avoid scrutiny when contributing on behalf of politicians with whom they may be trying to curry favor.

In fact, $25 million of those contributions were not reported by Kaiser in their state filings. Since 2019, more than $100 million have been contributed by Kaiser. This February, Newsom awarded Kaiser a no-bid statewide contract for Medi-Cal services in a secret deal that was leaked by the media.

Continuing to appeal to the Democratic Party is another well-worn tactic, along with withholding strike pay and keeping the protests isolated, through which the union leadership continues to play a pivotal role in stifling and disorienting the working class.

(Video) California Mental Health Workers Go On Strike

The developments at Kaiser are reflective of the larger mood growing among health care and other workers. On August 15 in Minnesota, 15,000 nurses overwhelmingly voted to strike. 700 Kaiser engineers are still working without a contract after striking for three months last year.

Kaiser workers have powerful allies at hospitals around the country, but to unite requires that they organize themselves outside of the union bureaucracy. Building new organizations which are democratically controlled by workers and independent of the capitalist parties is crucial to winning their demands.

Earlier this year, nurses across the country founded the National Health Care Workers Steering Committee to “connect the struggle of nurses with the struggles of other sections of the working class, in the US and throughout the world.” We urge the workers at Kaiser to found their own committee and affiliate with this growing national network.

To find out more about how to found a committee, fill out the form below:

(Video) Kaiser Mental Health Workers on Strike in Northern California, Central Valley

FAQs

Why are Kaiser mental health workers on strike? ›

More than 2,000 mental health workers walked off the job on August 15th, demanding Kaiser address staffing shortages and more patient access to care, after seeing a surge in demand during the pandemic. It was estimated some 20,000 patients would be affected by the strike.

Are Kaiser mental health workers still on strike? ›

Thursday's official approval of the agreement ends the longest strike among mental health care workers in U.S. history, according to the union. In a statement, Kaiser officials said they were "very pleased at the outcome" of the vote.

Why are the nurses at Kaiser going to strike? ›

The nurses planned on striking as a result of what they claim was the administration's refusal to address their concerns over workplace health and safety, patient safety, and chronic short staffing.

Why Kaiser strike Northern California? ›

According to the union, more than 21,000 nurses will go on strike on Nov. 21 and 22 to protest “workplace health and safety and chronic short staffing.” The union said it was announcing the strike 10 days in advance to allow hospitals to make plans for patient care.

Why are Kaiser Permanente workers striking? ›

according to the union. "Kaiser Permanente has been negotiating with the union for more than a year," Kaiser said in a statement. "There are two key issues we have been bargaining over: one is wage increases and the other is the union's demand to increase the time therapists spend on tasks other than seeing patients."

How long will Kaiser mental health strike last? ›

The vote officially brings the longest strike by mental health care workers in U.S. history to a close after 10 weeks, leaders of the National Union of Healthcare Workers in Northern California said in an announcement Thursday.

Is Kaiser Permanente laying off employees? ›

OAKLAND, Calif. – Despite recording a net income of $6.4 billion in 2020 and paying numerous executives million-dollar salaries, healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente announced on April 30 that it will eliminate more than 200 jobs at several facilities across California, leaving workers and their families devastated.

What is the strike at Kaiser about? ›

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, the labor union that represents 21,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners at the 21 medical centers, said the nurses' strike is to protest Kaiser Permanente's refusal to address their concerns “with little to no movement on key issues.”

Why is Kaiser striking? ›

Mental health clinicians are striking because Kaiser still considers mental health an afterthought compared to its medical services and still delays and denies its members the mental health care for which they are paying and legally entitled to receive.

How much do California strike nurses make? ›

How much does a Strike Nurse make in California? As of Nov 9, 2022, the average annual pay for a Strike Nurse in California is $87,983 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $42.30 an hour. This is the equivalent of $1,691/week or $7,331/month.

How many Kaiser employees are striking? ›

Kaiser Permanente strike of nearly 32,000 workers halted after last-second deal reached | Fierce Healthcare.

When was the last time Kaiser nurses went on strike? ›

The last major work stoppage by this union occurred nearly four decades ago, in 1980, according to union officials. In 1995, a strike was averted after a contract was agreed to after members voted to authorize a strike.

Are Northern California Kaiser nurses striking? ›

The nurses, who work at 21 Kaiser facilities in Northern California, notified their employer on Nov. 10 that they would strike, making this one of the biggest private-sector nurses strikes in U.S. history.

How long is the Kaiser strike? ›

In fact, Kaiser seems to be hemorrhaging clinicians: the union says that 377 have left the company between June 2021 and May 2022 in the Northern California region.

Why are California nurses striking? ›

More than 21,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners at 21 Kaiser Permanente Hospitals in Northern California are planning a two-day strike on November 21 and 22 to protest what they say is the health system's "refusal to address ongoing concerns about workplace health and safety and chronic short staffing."

Do Kaiser patients get calm for free? ›

That's why we're providing our members with access to Calm, at no cost. Calm is an app that uses meditation and mindfulness to help lower stress, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep quality. The Calm app is the #1 app for meditation and sleep, hand-picked by Kaiser Permanente, and is confidential and easy to use.

Do Kaiser members get calm for free? ›

After signing in to kp.org, Kaiser Permanente members can set up a Calm account at no additional cost.

What is Kaiser sympathy strike? ›

A sympathy strike is when members of one union strike in sympathy with members of another union who are on strike. Withholding our labor in solidarity is a powerful way to protest against unfair treatment by our employer and to take a stand for fair treatment and real respect.

Why are doctors leaving Kaiser Permanente? ›

The report, by Mark Roberts, M.D., chief of medicine at Kaiser's Vallejo Medical Center, said many physicians are leaving Kaiser for "less demanding jobs" elsewhere or cutting back on their Kaiser work schedules, resulting in a 13 percent turnover rate over the last two to three years.

How long do you have to work at Kaiser to be vested? ›

You are vested in the plan after 5 years of service. You may be eligible for retiree health benefits when you retire, depending on your age and years of service at retirement. Disability benefits provide income in the event you're unable to work for an extended period because of a serious illness or injury.

Is it good to work in Kaiser? ›

Out of 1189 Kaiser Permanente employee reviews, 74% were positive. The remaining 26% were constructive reviews with the goal of helping Kaiser Permanente improve their work culture.

What happens to health benefits during a strike? ›

A. A law called COBRA requires group health plans to offer striking workers and their covered dependents the opportunity to continue health coverage for up to 18 months when they go on strike by paying for it out of their own pockets. This applies to medical, dental and vision benefits.

How do I support Kaiser strike? ›

Social workers at Kaiser are committed to striking for as long as it takes to make Kaiser respect their profession and their patients. Please consider donating to the hardship relief fund organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. All proceeds will go to striking clinicians at Kaiser.

What is the highest paid nurse in California? ›

Top 10 highest-paying cities for Registered Nurses
RankCity / Metro AreaAverage RN Salary
1San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$155,230
2San Francisco-Oakland, CA$151,640
3Vallejo-Fairfield, CA$146,360
4Santa Rosa, CA$141,440
6 more rows
10 Sept 2022

What is the highest paid nurse? ›

The 10 Highest Paid Nursing Jobs in 2022
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist – $202,000.
  • Nursing Administrator – $120,000.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse – $120,000.
  • General Nurse Practitioner – $118,000.
  • Critical Care Nurse – $118,000.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife – $114,000.
  • Informatics Nurse – $102,000.
5 Sept 2022

What is the highest paid RN? ›

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) earn a nationwide average of $202,470 per year according to the BLS; this makes CRNAs the highest-paying type nursing job by a significant margin.

How much do Kaiser nurses make in Northern California? ›

How much does a Registered Nurse make at Kaiser Permanente in California? Average Kaiser Permanente Registered Nurse hourly pay in California is approximately $70.21, which is 77% above the national average.

Is Kaiser still on strike in California? ›

Kaiser mental health workers return to work after tentative agreement reached, ending historic strike in Northern California - ABC7 San Francisco.

Who is striking at Kaiser? ›

Union openly admits its demands will reduce access to mental health care.

What happens to patients when nurses strike? ›

Effects on Patients

They found these startling statistics: In-hospital mortality increased by 19.4 percent during strikes. Hospital readmissions rose by 6.5 percent for patients admitted during the strike period. Hospitals that hired replacement nurses performed the same as those that did not hire substitute staff.

How do you survive a nurse strike? ›

To keep your supply up (and prevent engorgement and plugged ducts), drink plenty of fluids, pump, get lots of sleep and try to eliminate stress (easier said than done, especially if you're panicked about the strike). “To get her back on the breast, try nursing when your baby is calm and happy, or when she's drowsy.

Why do nurses strike so much? ›

Inadequate staffing and nurse burnout are the biggest causes of turnover in nursing. In November 2021, one-third of registered nurses (RNs) surveyed in the U.S. said they were considering leaving their current direct patient-care role.

Why is Kaiser protesting? ›

Kaiser workers strike at the Oakland Medical Center to protest the HMO's "unethical" working conditions on Aug. 16, 2022. After a 9-week strike, Kaiser Permanente and the union representing about 2,000 mental health care workers in Northern California announced Tuesday that they reached a tentative agreement.

What is the strike about at Kaiser Permanente? ›

The union wants more, and is demanding 11 hours a week of time not seeing patients. The union's excessive demand would reduce the number of appointments we currently have by more than 2,500 every week. This takes us in the wrong direction, at a time when the need for mental health care has never been higher.

Why are Healthcare Workers going on strike? ›

Service Employees Union International-United Healthcare Workers West members plan to walk out over unfair labor practices as well as employee and patient safety concerns, short-staffing and low wages, according to the union.

Why are Kaiser employees picketing? ›

– Healthcare workers at 29 Kaiser Permanente facilities across the state will hold protests demanding recognition and additional support during the pandemic, weeks after the healthcare giant slashed performance sharing bonuses, despite posting $6.4 billion in profits during the last year.

Who is Kaiser Permanente owned by? ›

Kaiser. Thus, the organization currently known as Kaiser Permanente was born. We are still based on the close cooperation between 3 entities: the nonprofits Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, and the Permanente Medical Groups.

What is Kaiser best known for? ›

Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente is recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and nonprofit health plans. We currently serve 12.6 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia.

How do I support Kaiser mental health strike? ›

Donate to the NUHW strike fund or a local hardship fund:

You can either donate to the NUHW Strike fund, which will disburse funds to striking mental health clinicians across Northern California and the Central Valley or choose a local financial hardship fund set up by clinicians in your area.

What has been the most common cause for a workers strike? ›

U.S. History's Biggest Strikes

Strikes may be carried out in response to dangerous working conditions, unfair treatment, low wages, or any other workplace grievance that negatively impacts workers' safety or wellbeing.

Why are nurses striking in California? ›

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, the labor union that represents 21,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners at the 21 medical centers, said the nurses' strike is to protest Kaiser Permanente's refusal to address their concerns “with little to no movement on key issues.”

Does Kaiser negotiate salary? ›

Negotiate Salary

If you think you and your skill set should be valued higher than your offer, negotiate your salary! 42% of men and 28% of women at Kaiser Permanente said they negotiated their salaries. On average, Kaiser Permanente employees earn $151,338.

How many employees does Kaiser have on strike? ›

Roughly 2,000 employees have gone on strike at Oakland, CA-based Kaiser Permanente, the largest non-profit health maintenance organization (HMO) in the United States.

Videos

1. Personalized, compassionate mental health care | Kaiser Permanente
(Kaiser Permanente Thrive)
2. Thousands of Kaiser Permanente mental health workers hit the picket lines
(CBS Sacramento)
3. Building Capacity in the Mental Health Workforce | Kaiser Permanente
(Kaiser Permanente Thrive)
4. Meet Kaiser Permanente’s Mental Health Professionals
(Kaiser Permanente Thrive)
5. Thousands of Kaiser Permanente employees set to strike Monday
(KCRA News)
6. Kaiser mental health crisis: the time for action is now
(National Union of Healthcare Workers)
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