Scores of Kaiser mental health clinicians on 3-day strike as contract negotiations stall

Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers began walking picket lines Wednesday
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 1:49 PM HST|Updated: May. 19, 2022 at 1:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 50 mental health clinicians with Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii are staging a three-day strike to protest concerns with staffing and patient care.

Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers began walking picket lines Wednesday at selected Kaiser facilities statewide.

The union said the strike is an effort to force the HMO to better address the growing demand for mental health services. According to the union, Kaiser recently settled labor agreements with all unionized staff members except those in mental health services.

They also say there has been no progress in talks and there are no negotiations scheduled.

“For too long, we’ve had inadequate staffing to support patients,” said Kaiser clinical psychologist Tami Swonigan. “Members having to wait up to eight, nine weeks to get their first appointments.”

Kaiser Permanente, meanwhile, called the strike unwarranted and a common bargaining tactic. The facility also said it’s disappointed with the union for asking Kaiser mental health employees to walk away from their patients amid a worker shortage.

“The best place for us to resolve the economic and other issues, still under discussion, is at the bargaining table,” said Kaiser Director of Communications Laura Lott.

Last November, the union filed a 57-page complaint with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs over mental health staffing issues and services. Kaiser issued a seven-page written response, saying a shortage of behavioral health care workers in Hawaii is the main concern.

Maui Lani psychologist Rachel Kaya said the staffing concerns are “extremely frustrating.”

“Our waitlists are incredibly long, and the people of Maui are suffering because their mental health needs are not being met,” she said. “The problem isn’t that there are too few mental health clinicians in Hawaii; the problem is that Kaiser doesn’t want to pay to provide the level of mental health care that its members need.”

NUHW said Kaiser pledged last December to hire 44 more mental health clinicians, but as of May the number of full-time clinicians has actually dropped from 51 to 47. The union also said that in bargaining, Kaiser proposed cuts to health and retirement benefits and wage freezes for more than 60%.

The strike will last through Friday near selected medical facilities across the state.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for May 31st.

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