Kaiser employees with the National Union of Healthcare Workers picketed conducted a five-day strike in December of 2018. Another strike is set to start Monday and continue through Friday Dec. 20, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/SF Examiner)

Kaiser mental health workers start five-day strike

Approximately 4,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals are set to strike this week, starting Monday morning, at Kaiser facilities throughout the state, including several in the Bay Area.

Psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurses and other healthcare professionals who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers are striking to demand their employer fix what they say is a broken mental health system that leaves patients waiting months for appointments and its therapists overwhelmed with unsustainable caseloads.

Kaiser mental health workers previously went out on a five-day strike in December last year.

In a statement Friday, Michelle J. Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president of hospital and health plan operations for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said Kaiser has been working with an external, neutral mediator to help us reach a collective bargaining agreement with the NUHW.

That mediator, Gaskill-Hames said, recently delivered a proposed compromise to both sides that we are seriously considering.

“However, the union has rejected it and announced plans to strike instead of working through the mediated process,” she said.

Kaiser hospitals and medical offices will remain open during the strike, Gaskill-Hames said in the statement. While anyone in need of urgent mental health or other care will receive that care, she said that, if necessary, Kaiser will reschedule some “non-urgent appointments.”

As for this week’s strike, “We believe that NUHW’s repeated call for short strikes is disruptive to patient access, operational care and service and is frankly irresponsible … Rather than calling for a strike, we ask that NUHW’s leadership continue to engage with the mediator and Kaiser Permanente to resolve these issues,” Gaskill-Hames said.

Union officials, in their own statement on Friday, said Kaiser clinicians have been working without a contract for more than a year. Kaiser, the union said, has unlawfully demanded that clinicians drop unfair labor practice complaints as part of a settlement proposal and retaliated against clinicians by threatening to withdraw a retroactive cost-of-living wage increase after clinicians rejected an earlier settlement proposal.

In a survey earlier this year, 77 percent of Kaiser’s clinicians reported that, on a daily basis, they must schedule their patients’ return appointments further into the future than is clinically appropriate. Nearly three quarters reported that appointment wait times for their patients have grown longer over the past two years.

The NUHW had planned a five-day strike to have started Nov. 11, but that was postponed with the sudden death the previous day of Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson.

Picket lines are scheduled to be in place 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day this week in front of selected Kaiser facilities.

In the Bay Area, picketing is scheduled at the following facilities:

Monday —- San Francisco Medical Center, 2425 Geary Blvd., SF; Santa Clara Medical Center, 700/710 Lawrence Expressway, Santa Clara; Tantau Clinic, 19000 Homestead Road, Cupertino

Tuesday —- Oakland Medical Center, 3600 Broadway, Oakland (with march to Kaiser Oakland Headquarters, 1 Kaiser Plaza, and rally at noon)

Wednesday —- Redwood City Medical Center, 1150 Veterans Blvd., Redwood City; San Leandro Medical Center, 2500 Merced St., San Leandro; Santa Rosa Medical Center, 401 Bicentennial Way, Santa Rosa; Vallejo Medical Center, 975 Sereno Drive, Vallejo; Walnut Creek Medical Center, 1425 S. Main St., Walnut Creek

Friday —- Oakland Medical Center, 3600 Broadway, Oakland; San Jose Medical Center, 250 Hospital Pkwy., San Jose; San Rafael Medical Offices, 1033 Third St., San Rafael; Vacaville Medical Center, 1 Quality Drive, Vacaville

Sam Richard, Bay City News

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