Kaiser strike shutters psychiatry department
Nurses union joins walkout, citing deep cuts in mental health services
The department of psychiatry at the Mountain View branch of Kaiser Permanente closed its doors on Jan. 31 as a direct result of a union strike.
All four members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers working at the local Kaiser facility — all of whom worked within the department of psychiatry — participated in a 24-hour statewide strike, organized by the labor group.
The California Nurses Association, an affiliate of the National Nurses United union organized a "sympathy strike" in coordination with the NUHW protest.
Ken Rogers, who works at a Kaiser facility in Campbell, explained that while no psychiatrists in the department are represented by his union, the department was closed as a result of all four NUHW psychologists walking away from their posts.
"Kaiser management has not been bargaining in good faith," said Rogers, a psychologist and shop steward with the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
The union is upset with "unnecessary delays" in negotiations and proposed reductions to health benefits and freezes to pensions. Rogers added that he would be more sympathetic to the cuts if Kaiser reported that spiraling benefits costs were hurting the organization. However, he said, "This is an organization that has made $5.6 billion in profit over the past three years."
No union members picketed the Mountain View facility; protests were held outside a Kaiser location in Santa Clara.
"Kaiser Permanente Northern California has been bargaining in good faith with NUHW for more than a year, and we will continue to do so," said a statement from Kaiser Permanente. "We are disappointed in NUHW's decision to strike. We recognize their legal right to conduct a strike, but believe differences are best resolved at the bargaining table."
The statement went on to criticize the strikers for inconveniencing patients attempting to access Kaiser services that had been shut down as a result of the strike.
Rogers said that all of the union members who were planning to walk out had done their best to help reschedule patients in order to avoid putting patients out.
"We don't enjoy inconveniencing patients," he said. "That is a negative." However, he added, it was something the union had to weigh against the goals of the strike. According to Rogers, in addition to protesting cuts in benefits and pensions, the union was upset by patient inconveniences he claimed were caused by Kaiser management.
"We don't consider the way they've been treated to be acceptable," he said, asserting that the policies of Kaiser management have done much more to inconvenience patients than a single 24-hour strike could ever do.
Liz Jacobs, communications specialist with the California Nurses Association, said her union joined in solidarity with the NUHW because Kaiser nurses in Northern California have seen mental health services atrophy at the healthcare organization in recent years even as Kaiser has been "quite profitable."
Jacobs did not have any official count of how many nurses walked out of the Mountain View Kaiser location.