After 122 days on strike, little hope for deal in sight for Kaiser mental health workers

They say it’s taken a toll on them, their families, and their patients, especially during the holidays.
Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 5:35 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2022 at 5:43 PM HST
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WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It has been four months since Kaiser Permanente mental health therapists went out on strike ― and union members say it does not look like it will end any time soon.

“Even though Kaiser is claiming they’re bargaining in a fair way with us, they’re not bargaining. We have no dates to sit down, and they refuse to schedule with us,” said Kaiser Permanente licensed psychologist Rachel Kaya.

Kaya and several of her colleagues, all members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, marched back and forth while chanting and holding signs in front of the Kaiser Maui Lani clinic in Wailuku on Wednesday.

They have not had a paycheck in 18 weeks.

“We have not been working this entire time. So, through the holidays, through inflation, this team is unpaid,” she said.

Kaya said the 122-day strike has taken a toll on them, their families, and their patients, especially during the holidays.

Those on the picket lines say many of them are going into debt and are having to dip into their savings and retirement funds.

“We’ve all had to make sacrifices. Our families have all had to make sacrifices and hopefully it’s worth it because we really feel like we are on the right side of history with this,” Kaiser Permanente behavioral health therapist Summer Solt said.

Union members say it is the longest strike ever for mental health professionals.

They have been fighting since August, demanding that Kaiser Permanente hire more staff and have more competitive wages to help hire and retain employees.

The NUHW says Kaiser currently has 52 psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors serving its 266,000 members in Hawai’i.

Union members say it can take months to get an appointment.

“When you’re in crisis and you have the courage to make that phone call, you don’t wanna be told, ‘Here, look at this app, we’ll see you in six weeks.’ Some people don’t make it through that,” said Solt.

“Kaiser needs to know that the people of this community will not stand for mental health to go untreated,” Kaya said.

A spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente said they have a very competitive offer on the table including a wage proposal that is above market for mental health professionals in Hawaii.

“We value our mental health professionals and are deeply disappointed that they remain on strike. We want to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and we want our people back doing what they do best – taking care of patients,” said Laura M. Lott, senior director of communications and public relations at Kaiser.

The company also said it has contracted 52 external providers since the strike began and several dozen existing providers have opened additional appointments, and more than 100 providers are accepting new patients.

Kaiser Permanente confirmed no new bargaining dates are scheduled at this time.

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