Over 4,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health employees went on strike throughout California Monday over better working conditions, better mental health care, and reduced benefits.
A strike by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) had been in the works for several months but was delayed in November following the death of Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson. Much like last year’s strike, the NUHW strike against Kaiser Permanente is expected to last the week.
“They’re trying to make it look like it’s all about the money, like what our pay increases will be,” said a striking psychologist in Los Angeles who did not wish to be identified. “But what this is really about is how it’s not really working anymore. We don’t have enough people in to help everyone, we have people who desperately need help waiting months to get a time, and all of us are all overburdened.”
“I personally have had to cut patients off just to get the next person in there because of how strict time is with so many patients. It kills us to be out here rather than in there this week, but nothing would be done about it otherwise.”
Kaiser Permanente has indicated that the strike is largely due to wage and benefit increases. They have stressed that the NUHW has gone around the mediation process to strike, despite an agreement beforehand to use a mediator.
“Despite the National Union of Healthcare Workers’ decision to strike, it is important our members know that our hospitals and medical offices remain open,” said Kaiser Permanente in a statement. “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.”
With only limited and urgent mental health services available during this week, and neither side currently willing to reach a compromise solution over pay, work conditions, and patient care, Kaiser Permanente may be facing more strikes in the near future.
“We all want the same thing in the end.” said the unnamed Kaiser Permanente psychologist. “We all want to help patients. Many here took an oath to that effect.”
“Both us and Kaiser are going to win in the end. It’s the patients who lose in this.”