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Hirono urges Kaiser to finish contract with striking workers

Sophie Cocke

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and six of her Senate colleagues are pressuring Kaiser Permanente to come to a contract agreement with mental health clinicians in Hawaii who have been on strike for four months, writing in a letter to Kaiser’s CEO Greg Adams that the workers “deserve a fair wage, and patients deserve dependable, quality care.”

Kaiser’s mental and behavioral health workers in Hawaii, including psychologists, therapists and social workers, unionized about five years ago and have been trying to negotiate their first contract. Hirono and her colleagues write that Kaiser has been able to come to agreements with 32,000 of its workers nationwide in 2021, averting strikes and that in October it finalized an agreement with striking mental health employees in California, ending a 10-week strike.

“Your company has shown a willingness to broker good faith agreements with workers in other states. We ask that you make that same effort with workers on strike in Hawaii—even if they represent a smaller population of clinicians,” Hirono and her colleagues write. “Kaiser’s mental and behavioral health workers in Hawaii deserve the same level of investment and parity as their mainland counterparts.”

The letter is signed by Hirono, and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chris Coons (D-DE). They point to Kaiser’s recent profits in arguing that the company can afford to pay its employees more.

While your company has, for nearly five years, refused to negotiate in good faith a reasonable salary and workload demands for 57 employees, Kaiser Permanente reported a record $8.1 billion in net income in 2021,” they write. “We ask that you take time this holiday season to consider the workers on which your company and patients depend and finalize a contract.”

Hawaii’s mental health clinicians, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, say they’ve been pushing for higher salaries and better retirement packages, particularly for new hires. They say Kaiser needs to do a better job attracting more employees and that their shortage of mental health workers is putting patients at risk and leaving clinicians with overwhelming caseloads.

Kaiser has countered that the shortage of mental health workers exists nationwide and that they’ve already been working to increase their staff in Hawaii.

U.S. Senate letter to Kaiser Permanente by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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