California mental health workers vote to end 10-week strike

A 10-week strike by about 2,000 therapists and other mental health professionals in Northern California ended with a ratification vote announced Friday.

The strike, by Kaiser Permanente workers, was one of a growing number of work stoppages nationwide that have been focused on issues other than wages and benefits.

The wage increases included in the four-year Kaiser Permanente deal were relatively modest — a 4% retroactive pay increase for the last year and a 3% raise for each of the next three years. But the union says it won its main bargaining goals of better working conditions that will improve patient care and stop the rapid turnover of staff.

Among the changes was an increase from 60 to 90 minutes in the time therapists have to conduct an initial assessment of children. Kaiser Permanente also committed to increase staffing, according to the union.

“Our strike was difficult and draining, but it was worth it,” said Natalie Rogers, a therapist for Kaiser in Santa Rosa, California. “We stood up to the biggest nonprofit HMO in the nation, and we made gains that will help us better serve our patients and will advance the cause of mental health parity throughout the country.”

Work condition issues such as scheduling, safety and giving workers a voice in how work is done — have become major factors in the rise of union organizing campaigns across the country, including those at Starbucks and Amazon. They have also been the focus of some strikes and contentious labor negotiations recently.

Teachers in Columbus, Ohio, went on strike in late August over issues such as class size and the poor condition of many schools. About 15,000 nurses went on strike in Minnesota last month also citing work conditions and patient care issues. And more than 100,000 union members at the nation’s freight railroads nearly went on strike in September over issues of scheduling and work conditions for the engineers and conductors who make up the two-person train crews.

The vote among the mental health workers at Kaiser was 1,546 for and only 36 votes against. While the 2,000 workers will be returning to work, another 66 mental health professionals in Hawaii remain on strike against Kaiser.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.

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