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Kaiser Permanente mental health workers call off threatened strike

Kaiser Permanente mental health workers call off threatened strike
Mental health workers rally outside the Kaiser Permanente hospital on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles during a five-day strike in December 2018. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Citing progress in contract talks, about 4,000 mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente called off a strike they had threatened to begin Tuesday at the healthcare giant’s California facilities.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers said it shelved the walkout, which was scheduled to last until a new contract was reached, after making “progress at the bargaining table in recent weeks.”

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The employees — including clinical social workers, therapists, psychologists, nurses and others — have been working without a contract since September.

In addition to bargaining over pay and benefits, the union and its members also contend that Kaiser is too slow in providing patients with access to mental health care, and the workers have pushed for the health maintenance organization to take steps to alleviate the delays. The employees held a five-day walkout over the issues in December.

“Kaiser has finally acknowledged to its clinicians that its system is in crisis,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in a statement Sunday. “Kaiser’s last offer is better than before our members authorized an open-ended strike last month.”

Oakland-based Kaiser, which has said it has made major investments in mental health care staffing and facilities in recent years, said Monday that it was “pleased that the NUHW strike has been called off; it was the responsible thing to do.”

“As we have communicated to our employees and others, we have addressed the key issues raised by labor and management,” the HMO said.

But Rosselli said Kaiser “is still refusing to consider adequate measures to provide immediate relief for clinicians and patients, such as establishing crisis teams at all clinics, so therapists don’t have to cancel appointments with patients who have been waiting weeks or months to see them.”

Even so, he said, “we feel a settlement is within reach.”

Kaiser is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans. It has 12.3 million members, including 4.6 million in Southern California, and nearly $80 billion in annual revenue.

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