On the Picket Line

Mental health workers make gains in strike against Kaiser

By Jeff Powers
November 14, 2022

OAKLAND, Calif. — More than 2,000 mental health workers in Northern California organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers settled their 10-week-long strike with Kaiser Permanente Oct. 21.

The strike was hard fought. The union organized weekly rallies where patients and their families spoke in support of the union’s demand for more staffing. They described how Kaiser’s failure to hire more clinicians routinely caused a two-month wait to see therapists. This critically impacted their lives, and children of more than one of the speakers had committed suicide.

Kaiser agreed to a number of concessions. They include nearly two additional hours per week for therapists to perform patient care, a $1 to $1.50 per hour extra pay for bilingual therapists, a commitment by Kaiser to work with therapists on a plan to expand crisis services in nearly all of its clinics, an agreement to increase from 60 to 90 minutes the time therapists have to conduct initial assessments of children, and a commitment by Kaiser to hire more therapists.

Five separate labor-management committees will meet over the next six months to make recommendations on critical aspects of Kaiser’s service. Kaiser is not in compliance with the state law requiring all health insurers to provide therapy sessions within 10 business days, unless the treating therapist permits an exception.