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Latest News - January 2015

January 1, 2015
Kaiser responds to union plans for weeklong strike

Kaiser Permanente management responded Thursday to an announcement this week that a union representing mental health workers plans a weeklong strike statewide this month.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents mental health employees at Kaiser facilities across the state, on Wednesday filed an official notice of intent to strike Jan. 12.

About 2,600 mental health workers will engage in the strike to draw attention to what union officials say is Kaiser’s failure to provide timely and adequate mental health services to patients.

The union represents 65 mental health employees in Santa Rosa and nine in Petaluma, including psychotherapists and clinical social workers.  Gay Westfall, a Kaiser vice president of human resources in Northern California, issued a statement saying the health care provider has contingency plans in place if the strike occurs.

In addition to mental health workers, NUHW represents optical workers, who have said they plan to join picket lines.  “We respect and value our therapists and optical workers and recognize their dedication to making a difference in the lives of our members and patients,” Westfall’s statement said. “At the same time, though, we are disappointed to receive a strike notice from the union, asking our employees to leave their work caring for patients and members for as long as a week.”

Westfall called the strike call “irresponsible” and said it indicates the union is more interested in disparaging Kaiser in public than in returning to the bargaining table to resolve disagreements.

“In Northern California, we just returned to the bargaining table earlier this month after a six-month hiatus,” Westfall’s statement said. “It is troubling that following just one bargaining session — and before we have even have had the chance to meet again — the union has announced a weeklong strike.”

The two sides are scheduled to meet Tuesday and may discuss improving patients’ access to mental health care, in addition to proposals from the union on wages and benefits.

Westfall said the organization is “committed to continuing to bargain whenever and wherever possible to avert a strike, and we are urging our employees to resist the call to leave members and patients for a weeklong strike.”  In 2012, the state Department of Managed Health Care, which regulates HMOs, fined Kaiser $4 million for what it termed serious deficiencies in providing timely access to mental health services. It was the second-largest fine in the history of the regulatory agency, which was created in 2000.

Union officials said workers will form 65 picket lines at more than 35 Kaiser locations across the state, and that more than 700 other Kaiser employees are expected to honor the picket lines.



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