Kaiser Permanente nurses and mental health staff to strike in solidarity with engineers on Friday

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After a solidarity strike Thursday left some Kaiser Permanente patients without care, nurses and mental health clinicians left work Friday morning in solidarity with the striking engineers.

Hundreds of Kaiser employees were on the picket line on Cottle Road outside Kaiser San Jose Medical Center, holding up signs that read “Patients Before Profits” and “Staffing Now”.

“I think it’s just ridiculous that Kaiser left these workers on strike for nine and a half weeks,” said ICU nurse Kimberly Sullivan. “It’s just incredibly sad that the company we have worked tirelessly for during this pandemic for the past two years is turning its back on employees for who they are.”

In response to Friday’s sympathy strike, Kaiser issued a statement: “As staffing continues to be a challenge across health care, we have hired hundreds of nurses and others. members of the care team over the past few months and continue to support our teams and their need for respite. by calling on experienced temporary workers.

About 20,000 nurses and thousands of mental health professionals, represented by the National Union of Health Workers, are expected to join the sympathy strike, including at other Bay Area Kaiser centers in Fremont, Oakland, Walnut Creek, San Leandro, Antioch, Richmond, Redwood City, southern San Francisco and Vallejo. Sympathy strikers will also gather outside Kaiser’s Oakland headquarters at noon.

“Nurses know the devastating impact of the staff shortage on the health and well-being of our community,” said CNA President Cathy Kennedy, RN at Kaiser in Roseville. “We also know that to provide patients with the safe care our communities need and deserve, we need to be able to count on our colleagues and they must be able to count on us. We are therefore at the side of Kaiser’s engineers in their just fight for a safe and fair workplace. “

The engineers, represented by IUOE Stationary Engineers, Local 39, who help maintain various systems in hospitals, medical centers and other buildings, have been on strike since their contract expired on September 17 in the goal of obtaining higher wages. Kaiser said engineers earn more than $ 180,000 in combined wages and benefits, and union leaders are asking for “unreasonable increases” beyond what other unions have asked for.

“I know they describe it as if we were paid this huge amount of money,” said Elaine Lopez, picket, biomedical engineer at Kaiser San Jose. “This is the Bay Area, living here is not cheap. All we ask is what is right. We are not asking for more than that. Just what everyone in this field gets paid in our profession.

Mental health professionals, who also work on a contract that expired Oct. 1, say Kaiser rejected proposals to increase staffing and hire more minority and bilingual therapists to reduce the number of ‘unsustainable’ cases in clinics. Kaiser employees say clients are forced to wait one to three months for a follow-up treatment appointment.

Mickey Fitzpatrick, a psychologist at Kaiser Pleasanton, said the next available appointment for patients would not be until January.

“We are sorely understaffed and have workloads in excess of the hundreds,” he said. “We have no limit to our workloads. It is unethical to force clients to wait one to two months, sometimes three months for therapy appointments and it is incongruous with their standard of care which suggests that therapy is effective, that clients are seen. at intervals of one to two weeks.

Long wait times could have serious repercussions on patients, including death, according to some mental health professionals.

“A month is a very long time,” said Joanna Manqueros, therapist at Kaiser Oakland. “Depression is a serious mental health problem and just like an untreated diabetic or an untreated person with severe heart disease, the serious ramifications can include death and this is true for many mental health problems that we treat. “

Fitzpatrick said the “vast majority” of NUHW members would support a strike if it came to that.

Kaiser said he has added hundreds of mental health clinicians over the past 5 years and currently has over 300 open positions.

“There is a national shortage of mental health clinicians that was already a challenge before the pandemic, and over the past year and a half, the demand for care has increased everywhere,” Kaiser said in a statement. “We have taken steps to address the caregiver shortage and to ensure that care is available for our members. “

Friday’s sympathy strike comes after tens of thousands of unionized Kaiser workers in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Sacramento, from X-ray technicians to housekeepers, withdrew in sympathy on Thursday, leaving the healthcare giant to scramble for backup and patients with more wait times and, in some cases, no service at all.

Kaiser said in a statement he was negotiating with Local 39 on Tuesday and Wednesday, but still finds himself in a stalemate over wages.

“We are optimistic about our ability to resolve the remaining issues with Local 39 at the bargaining table and reach a deal that continues to reward our employees and support the affordability of healthcare, just as we do. have done with several unions this week, ”Kaiser said.

In the meantime, Kaiser said some locations with laboratory, optometry and radiology services and some outpatient pharmacies will be closed or operate at reduced hours this week during sympathy strikes. “Non-urgent” medical procedures or appointments could also be rescheduled or postponed.

The healthcare provider said he wonders why union leaders have encouraged sympathy strikes and that this “will not bring us any closer to a deal and, more importantly, it is unfair for our members and patients to disrupt their care when they need it most. employees to be there for them.

Union leaders said Kaiser has enough money to fund the resources of medical centers, which are faltering under pressure from insufficient staff during the pandemic.

“Kaiser has the resources to be the best place to give and receive behavioral health care, but he was chosen to be the star child of uneven and unethical care,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the NUHW. “Kaiser’s refusal to even consider proposals to increase staff and improve care shows that it is not serious to work with clinicians to fix your mental health care system.”


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