The health system's senior vice president of national labor relations said the conflict is resolvable, 'and there is no reason to strike.'
A five-day strike that was postponed last month after the sudden death of Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson is back on the calendar.
Thousands of psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses, and other healthcare professionals plan to strike December 16–20 at more than 100 Kaiser Permanente facilities across California, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) said Wednesday.
"Mental health has been underserved and overlooked by the Kaiser system for too long," said Ken Rogers, PsyD, MEd, a Kaiser Permanente clinical psychologist who serves as a vice president on the NUHW executive board, in a statement released by the union.
"We're ready to work with Kaiser to create a new model for mental health care that doesn't force patients to wait two months for appointments and leave clinicians with unsustainable caseloads," Rogers said. "But Kaiser needs to show that it's committed to fixing its system and treating patients and caregivers fairly."
The union accuses Kaiser Permanente of refusing to negotiate unless mental health clinicians agree to "significantly poorer retirement and health benefits" than those received by its more than 120,000 other California employees.
Dennis Dabney, senior vice president of national labor relations and the Office of Labor Management Partnership at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, said the parties have been working together with an external mediator in pursuit of a collective bargaining agreement. The union rejected a compromise solution proposed last week by the mediator, Dabney said.
"The only issues actively in negotiation in Northern California are related to wage increases and the amount of administrative time that therapists have beyond patient time," Dabney said. "We believe these issues are resolvable and there is no reason to strike."
The mediator's recommendation includes about 3% in annual wage increases for therapists in Northern California for four years, plus a $2,600 retroactive bonus, Dabney said
"In Southern California, the primary contract concern relates to wage increases and retirement benefits," Dabney said.
The mediator's recommendation includes about 3% in annual wage increases for therapists in Southern California for four years, plus a $2,600 retroactive bonus, even though the organization's therapists in Southern California "are paid nearly 35% above market," Dabney said.
"Rather than calling for a strike, NUHW's leadership should continue to engage with the mediator and Kaiser Permanente to resolve these issues," Dabney said.
Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.
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