OAKLAND, Calif. — People driving past honked in support as mental health workers on strike against health care giant Kaiser Permanente in Northern California rallied in front of the company’s headquarters here Sept. 23. More than 2,000 therapists, psychologists and social workers, members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, have been on the picket lines since Aug. 15 fighting for increased staffing.
“One suicide is one too many,” read the union banner, which included photographs of patients who have committed suicide.
“Patients have to wait two to six months to see a therapist,” counselor Steve Schoser, who chaired the rally, told the crowd. “Then they have to wait four months until the next appointment. That’s why we’re on strike.” They are demanding Kaiser hire more staff to allow them to treat patients properly.
April Jordan, who lives in Richmond, spoke about her son, Basil Faulkner, who suffered from depression. He killed himself six weeks ago after failing to get an appointment. “My son needed care,” she said. “He went to Kaiser many times and got no help. The last time, he and his girlfriend waited in the lobby for two hours and were sent home with a phone number. If I walked in with a broken foot, I’d get treated.”
“If you’re on fire, you can’t wait six weeks for some water,” Queen Adu-Poku, a regional director of the National Association of Social Workers, told the rally. “Maybe you can’t appeal to the conscience of someone who doesn’t have a conscience, but I have one!”
Many strikers say isolation experienced by millions during the COVID-19 lockdowns increased the need for mental health care. “Since the pandemic the severity of mental illness has increased,” Olivia Salvador, a clinical social worker, told the Militant.
On Sept. 25, leaders of the National Union of Healthcare Workers said that the strikers overwhelmingly rejected Kaiser’s last contract proposal by a 1,349 to 222 vote.
Send messages of solidarity to Northern California Office, 1250 45th St., Suite 200, Emeryville, CA 94608. Phone: (510) 834-2009. Fax: (510) 834-2019. To contribute to the strike fund go to nuhw.org/kaiserstrikefund.