Tomorrow (Monday November 16, 2015) marks the kick-off of an open-ended strike by Northern California Kaiser’s mental health workers. To date the longest Kaiser therapist strike lasted a week, in January 2015. In previous strikes the message has been directed to the public through the media: “Here are the ways Kaiser patients are suffering as a result of Kaiser’s misbehavior.” This time the message is directed toward Kaiser executives: “We refuse to return to work until Kaiser comes up with a realistic plan to improve services and stops harrassing its employees.”
These particular 1400 Kaiser therapists have a lot of chutzpah. Kaiser may refuse to compromise, feeling they have nothing to lose by waiting out the strikers. Unlike nursing strikes that cost Kaiser lots of money in wages paid to temporary workers, mental health strikes to this point only save Kaiser money. Historically, during therapist strikes Kaiser doesn’t hire temporary workers — the unkind word is “scab.” Instead they cut mental health services even further than their appalling baseline levels. Kaiser orders their psychiatrists (MD owners of Kaiser who don’t strike) and managers (who can’t strike) to cover emergency services and lets everything else fall by the wayside. Early evidence that this will be their primary stragegy is available on the union’s website. According to the NUHW, Kaiser has cancelled this week’s non-urgent appointments.
As in the past, Kaiser will be saving at least half a million dollars a day by not paying therapist wages while they’re on strike. It will only take eight working days to make back the $4 million in fines the Department of Managed Care forced Kaiser to pay for understaffing.
The NUHW is planning an opening rally on Monday in San Francisco at the Kaiser Medical Center, 2425 Geary Blvd, at 11AM. Former US Congressman Patrick Kennedy is going to be speaking. Since leaving Congress he’s been involved in developing mental health policy at the national level through the Kennedy Forum. Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose husband Peter Kingston committed suicide while under the care of the Kaiser psychiatry department in Santa Rosa, will be speaking as well.
I’m doing my darndest to get myself and my client Chelsie in to San Francisco for the festivities (see Chelsie’s Story using the First 90 Days – Reader’s Edition tab on this website). Chelsie and I were interviewed by Fox News and included in last week’s 6PM news broadcast. That was exciting. (For my five seconds of fame I looked a little like Linus without his blanket — open parentheses around my eyes. Chelsie, however, looked fantastic and told her story well.)
I hope to see you at the rally. If we haven’t met, please introduce yourself. It’s so important to encourage each other through these experiences. Kaiser is changing. We know they are. But change is slow and people are struggling in the meantime. We need to give each other as many hugs as we can while we wait.