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Monday, October 31, 2022

Longest Strike Ends: California Mental Health Care Workers Win Big

Cal Wilslow
Originally posted 24 OCT 22

Two thousand mental health clinicians have won; Kaiser Permanente has lost. The 10- week strike has ended in near total victory for the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). The therapists, walked out on August 15; it became the longest mental health care workers’ strike recorded.

Two issues dominated negotiations from the start: workload for Kaiser therapists and wait time for Kaiser patients. The strikers won on both, forcing concessions until now all but unheard of. The strikers won break through provisions to retain staff, reduce wait times for patients and a plan to collaborate on transforming Kaiser’s model for providing mental health care. The new four-year contract is retroactive to September 2021 and expires in September 2025. Darrell Steinberg, Mayor of Sacramento served as a mediator. Members of the NUHW voted 1561 to 36 to ratify it.

Braving three- digit heat, strikers walked picket lines throughout Northern California and the Central Valley. They picketed, marched and rallied at Kaiser hospitals – in a strike that caught the attention of mental health care advocates everywhere. “Our strike was difficult and draining, but it was worth it,” said Natalie Rogers, a therapist for Kaiser in Santa Rosa. We stood up to the biggest nonprofit in the nation, and we made gains that will help better serve our patients and will advance the cause of mental health parity throughout the country.”

The mental health clinicians I’ve met are almost universally modest and careful in their choice of words, and here is an example. To say that that Kaiser is “the biggest non-profit” is an understatement to say the least – its revenues are in the billions, and its managers make millions while this giant among giants, typically in the world of corporate health care, oversees its empire as if it were making cars and trucks.

I’ve seen NUHW rallies well-attended by patients themselves, also family members and supporters who are angry, bitter. Where frequently they carry signs to the effect that the issues here are life and death, rallies where speakers break down in tears, where placards tell us that suicide can be the outcome of care denied – “Stop the Suicides!” It’s a wonder more therapists don’t move on. The world of pain of the mental health patient can be just as acute as that of the medical patient. Ask a therapist. It’s not that the clinicians don’t want to tell us this.; it’s that, in their own way, they are telling us. It’s why they fight so hard.