Kaiser cancels some surgeries with 4K mental health therapists on strike
- Kaiser Permanente has confirmed to CBS that some non-urgent surgeries scheduled for this week have been canceled. About 4,000 mental health workers represented by National United Healthcare Workers (NUHW) are on the fourth day of their five day strike this week, but Kaiser has attributed the cancellations to nurses who have joined the picket line.
- Both California Nurses Association (CNA) and Stationary Engineers 39 filed formal notices alerting Kaiser of their members' right to strike in sympathy with NUHW members, 10 days before the strike began Monday. Hospital service employees represented by SEIU-UHW, who have been picketing over outsourcing at the health system, also have the right to engage in a sympathy strike with NUHW employees.
- Kaiser stressed that not all surgeries are being postponed, only those dependent on striking staff.
Hospital workers at Kaiser and other major hospital systems have put intense pressure on their employers this year for renewed contracts that raise wages, increase staffing levels and improve medical benefits. The result has been myriad pickets and rallies and, by Healthcare Dive's count, 15 strikes — three more than the year prior.
Mental health workers at Kaiser began their five-day strike Monday, citing staffing issues that have impacted their ability to meet their patients' needs.
Kaiser nurses represented by CNA, an affiliate of National Nurses United, landed a five-year contract in April in which members received 12% raises and an agreement from Kaiser to hire an additional 150 nurses — a response to nurses' demands for safer nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.
John Nelson, vice president of communication at Kaiser, told Becker's that patient safety is Kaiser's priority, and that CNA nurses' decision to strike in sympathy has directly impacted the hospitals' ability to meet that priority. Healthcare Dive reached out to both CNA and Kaiser Permanente, but neither responded before publishing time.
"The nurses' union is asking the nurses not to come to work, to support the therapists," Nelson told Becker's. "Even though we are not in bargaining with the nurses' union and they recently signed a generous 5-year agreement with Kaiser Permanente."
NUHW members are looking for a similar deal. Kaiser has taken to Twitter to highlight recent investments its made in mental health.
We’ve invested significantly in our #mentalhealth offerings in Calif. and our staffing has grown by 30% since 2015. We’re disappointed that union leaders would ask our highly valued staff to strike. We have plans in place to care for and serve our members. https://t.co/wWIhVx6C2a pic.twitter.com/zNIqgajl65— Kaiser Permanente Southern California (@KPSCALnews) December 10, 2018
It's unclear whether SEIU-UHW workers will meet NUHW and CNA members at the picket line. The groups have been organizing together to form a national coalition of Kaiser Permanente unions. SEIU-UHW, which represents 55,000 Kaiser employees across California, has been fiercely fighting for higher wages for service workers by picketing, delivering petitions to executives and outlining a new strategy for 2019, just released last week:
"The top priority of SEIU‐UHW in 2019 will be an all‐out effort to ensure that the 85,000 members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions achieve a great National Agreement in the face of Kaiser's attacks on workers and patients," the statement reads. "We will put the full weight of the organization behind a plan that includes large public actions, including pickets, marches, civil disobedience and, if necessary, a strike, to ensure a great new National Agreement."
They did, however, send Kaiser executives a not-so-heartwarming Christmas present.
Workers are set to return to their jobs Monday.
Healthcare Dive has been tracking hospital labor activism on the map below:
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