California mental health workers vote to end 10-week strike


New York
CNN business

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

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

The pay increases included in Kaiser Permanente’s four-year deal were relatively modest: a 4% retroactive pay increase in the final year and a 3% increase over the next three years. But the union says it achieved its main bargaining goals for better working conditions that will improve patient care and to stop rapid staff turnover.

Among the changes, the time for therapists to perform an initial assessment of children increased from 60 to 90 minutes. Kaiser Permanente also pledged to increase its workforce, according to the union.

“Our strike was difficult and exhausting, but it was worth it,” said Natalie Rogers, a Kaiser therapist in Santa Rosa, California. “We went up against the nation’s largest nonprofit HMO, and won a victory that will help us better serve our patients and advance the cause of mental health equity across the country.”

Working conditions problems such as hours, safety, and giving workers a say in how the job is done — have become major factors in the rise of union organizing campaigns across the country, including at Starbucks ( SBUX ) and Amazon ( AMZN ). In addition, they have been the focus of a number of strikes and contentious labor negotiations recently.

Teachers in Columbus, Ohio, went on strike in late August over issues such as class sizes and the poor condition of many schools. About 15,000 nurses went on strike in Minnesota last month, citing poor working conditions and poor patient care. And more than 100,000 of the nation’s freight railroad unions nearly went on strike in September over scheduling and working conditions for the engineers and drivers who make up the two-man train crews.

Among Kaiser mental health workers, the vote was 1,546 in favor and only 36 against. While the 2,000 workers will return to work, another 66 mental health professionals in Hawaii are still on strike against Kaiser.

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