Kaiser Permanente-Fresno mental health and eye-care workers began a seven-day strike Monday, picketing outside the northeast Fresno hospital to protest what they say is inadequate staffing by the health system.
About 15 people were on the picket line Monday morning. The Fresno hospital has about 40 mental health workers and 12 optical, workers. Statewide, about 2,600 workers have been called to strike. The workers are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.
The strike is designed to compel Kaiser to “look at what they are doing unfairly to their patients,” said Marvin Perez, a clinical psychologist at Kaiser-Fresno. Kaiser promotes itself as helping patients thrive, Perez said. “If patients don’t have access to mental health care, then they’re really not thriving.”
Kim Hollingsworth, a Kaiser-Fresno marriage and family therapist, said workers have been willing to negotiate with Kaiser, but negotiations have stalled. “It’s really discouraging,” she said.
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Kaiser officials have said staffing has been increased by 25% in the past three years while membership during that period has grown by only 8%.
On Monday, John Nelson, Kaiser vice president of government relations, said in a written statement: “NUHW is a small California union representing fewer than 5,000 of Kaiser Permanente’s 175,000 employees. Since its creation in 2009, it has never negotiated a contract with Kaiser Permanente. In fact, NUHW stands alone as the only union that has been unwilling or unable to reach a fair agreement concerning a contract covering our employees during that time.”
Meanwhile, more than 18,000 Kaiser nurses and nurse practitioners in Northern and Central California are planning to strike Jan. 21-22.
The nurses say Kaiser has cut hospital services, restricted admission of patients and has discharged patients who still need care, The Oakland Tribune reported.
The walkout will affect all 86 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics.
Nurses held a two-day strike in November. The union and Kaiser are in contract talks, and the health provider has said it’s hopeful about reaching a fair agreement.