Kaiser Permanente's Hawaiian mental health workers announce deal to end 6-month strike

Updated Feb. 17

About 50 Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians have reached a tentative agreement with the integrated health system for a new three-year contract, ending a 172-day strike the workers' union is calling "the longest work stoppage by mental healthcare workers in U.S. history." 

The agreement was announced Thursday and comes with an immediate halt to picketing, per the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). The clinicians, which comprise of psycologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors, will return to work on Tuesday.

Details on the agreement will not be disclosed until after a ratification vote.

The Hawaiian workers' demonstrations were launched during, and eventually outlasted, a similar walkoff by more than 2,000 over their counterparts in Northern California (see below). That strike ran for about two months and culminated in a four-year contract.

Alongside new working agreements, both demonstrations criticized Kaiser Permanente for subjecting patients to long waits for mental healthcare.

“Kaiser Permanente has the deepest appreciation and gratitude for our mental health professionals and the extraordinary care they provide to our members so we are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with NUHW," the organization said in a statement given to Fierce Healthcare. "Our mental health staff represented by NUHW will now vote on the new agreement and we look forward to hearing from the union regarding ratifications status.”

Oct. 19, 2022

Kaiser Permanente, striking mental health workers announce tentative deal

Kaiser Permanente and a union representing more than 2,000 of the system’s mental health workers said they have reached a tentative agreement to end a 10-week strike.

The picket lines and protests spanned Kaiser’s Northern California clinics since Aug. 15.

The parties had been locked in contract negotiations since early 2021. Mental health staffing levels, employee wellness support, wages and concerns over lengthy delays for patients seeking one-on-one therapy were all major points of concern, according to statements from the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Kaiser and NUHW reached a tentative agreement for a new contract “in the early hours” of Tuesday morning, the parties said in a joint statement released later that afternoon.

“The new four-year agreement will benefit Kaiser Permanente patients and drive collaborative efforts aimed at improving access to mental healthcare, while at the same time recognizing and better supporting mental health therapists in their important work,” they wrote in the statement.

Workers represented by the union will be participating in a two-day ratification vote that began Tuesday evening. More details regarding the terms of the tentative deal will be released following the vote, according to the joint statement.

The groups credited Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg for mediating and helping close the negotiations.

During the standoff, NUHW said the system had broken California law by making patients wait weeks longer than the state’s 10-day intake appointment and subsequent 10-day follow-up visit requirements. Regulators reportedly investigated Kaiser after receiving several patient complaints regarding wait times.

Kaiser criticized the union’s “scorched-earth approach” to the issue of high mental health services demand, saying in statements that “the strike never needed to take place.”

In later weeks, Kaiser said it had reached an agreement on issues of compensation but that the union’s demand that members be allocated more time each week to complete non-patient-facing work threatened to reduce the system’s weekly appointment capacity by more than 2,500.

Late August also saw Kaiser’s Hawaiian psychologists, psychiatric nurses and other mental health workers launch their own labor strike. Those workers are not included in the deal and remain on strike, a union spokesperson said.