Striking California Kaiser mental health workers seek extension of strike as 50 Kaiser workers in Hawaii set to join them on recall lines

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Kaiser mental health workers picketing in Northern California (WSWS Media)

The strike by 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals in Northern California continued for a fourth day Thursday. These psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers are on strike after years of worsening working conditions in San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento and San Jose.

A central issue emerging in the strike is the need for workers to break out of the isolation imposed on them by the National Union of Health Workers (NUHW) and to extend the struggle to health workers not only at Kaiser Permanente but in the entire medical system.

On Thursday, it was announced that 50 Kaiser mental health professionals in Hawaii will join the strike on August 29 due to understaffing. Report yesterday at Court News wrote: “Hawaii health giant’s accreditation faces ‘corrective action’ after clinicians file a complaint documenting long wait times for mental health appointments. National Quality Assurance Commission investigators concluded that these access issues pose a “potential risk to patient safety” and said that “Kaiser’s past efforts to improve access have been largely ineffective.”

This is a welcome development, but it raises the question of why more Kaiser workers are not also being called. Kaiser has approximately 149,000 health care employees plus 16,000 physicians in California. About 700 Kaiser engineer operators in Northern California, who went on strike for three months last year, are still working without a contract.

Last November, tens of thousands of Kaiser health workers, mostly nurses, were poised to strike, only for unions to call it off at the last minute and force a sellout contract with sub-inflationary wage increases and no staff guarantees. Nurses opposed to UNAC/UNHCP (United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals) sabotaging the fight formed a ranking committee to fight to give the fight new leadership outside the union bureaucracy.

There is the potential for a strong united movement of health professionals against the endless assault on public health. However, this requires a struggle by health workers against the isolation of their strike by health unions.

Al, a mental health professional, told the WSWS that burnout was consuming the profession.

“We can’t give the care we want to give,” he said. “We want to give patients timely appointments so we can meet their medical needs, but we can’t do that. We don’t have enough people and appointments are three weeks, even a month, or a month and a half out. We just don’t have the staff for it. We don’t have the resources and we need more. We’re all so thin and people leave fast.”

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