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Kaiser Permanente therapists return to work as union ratifies new contract

Kaiser Permanente mental health workers and supporters march outside a Kaiser facility in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli
Kaiser Permanente mental health workers and supporters march outside a Kaiser facility in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. More than 2,000 Kaiser Permanente psychologists, therapists and other mental health workers in Northern California had been striking over workloads and excessive wait times.

Therapists with the National Union of Healthcare Workers voted overwhelmingly to approve a new contract with Kaiser Permanente of Northern California on Thursday.

Therapists started striking in August in what the union is calling the longest strike by mental health workers in U.S. history.

Among their concerns was not having enough time to perform administrative patient care duties, such as calling social services and developing treatment plans. The new contract addresses these issues as well as diversity and staffing concerns.

Kaiser agreed to hire more therapists and increase additional pay for bilingual therapists from one dollar to $1.50 per hour. Therapists will also have 90 minutes to conduct initial assessments for children seeking care, up from the previous hour-long sessions.

“It was actually a positive end to a long, grueling process and we’re happy with the various areas of the contract that affects patients and our ability to provide care to our patients,” said Kimberley Hollingsworth-Horner, a child and family psychotherapist in Fresno. She was on the bargaining committee who that brought the tentative agreement to union voters.

Only 36 people voted against the contract that was approved by a super majority of 1,561.

“We are very pleased at the outcome of the ratification vote,” Kaiser Permanente said in a statement on Friday. “We appreciate our therapists’ confidence in this agreement, which addresses the concerns they expressed, while upholding Kaiser Permanente’s commitment that any agreement must protect and enhance access to mental health for our members. We are glad to have all our employees back, caring for their patients.”

The strike gained statewide attention with several elected officials voicing their support for the strikers, including State Controller Betty T. Yee and Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis.

In September, Kaiser made an offer but the union’s bargaining committee never took it to its members for a vote.

“They are wanting us to support their offer to our members and we can not do that because of the patient care aspects,” Hollingsworth-Horner said at the time.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg stepped in as mediator in mid-October, a role he played for the same parties in 2015. Just days after the mediation effort began, Kaiser and the union announced they had settled on a tentative agreement.

Now that the agreement has been ratified, therapists are returning to work. Hollingsworth-Horner said the challenge now is catching up with patient cases.

A Valley native, Elizabeth earned her bachelor's degree in English Language Literatures from the University of California, Santa Cruz and her master's degree in journalism from New York University. She has covered a range of beats. Her agriculture reporting for the Turlock Journal earned her a first place award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. While in graduate school she covered the New Hampshire Primary for NBC Owned Television Stations and subsequently worked as a television ratings analyst for the company's business news network, CNBC. Upon returning to California, her role as a higher education public relations professional reconnected her to the Valley's media scene. She is happy to be back to her journalism roots as a local host at KVPR.