Striking California Kaiser mental health workers call for extension of strike as 50 Kaiser workers in Hawaii set to join them on pickets

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

The strike by 2,000 Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals in Northern California continued into its fourth day Thursday. These psychologists, therapists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers have been on strike over the years of deteriorating 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 extend the struggle to health workers not only at Kaiser Permanente but throughout the medical system.

It was announced Thursday that 50 Kaiser mental health professionals in Hawaii will join the Aug. 29 strike over understaffing. Report yesterday in News from the Court House wrote: “Hawaii health giant’s accreditation faces ‘corrective action’ after clinicians file complaint documenting long wait times for mental health screenings. The National Committee for Quality Assurance researchers concluded that these access problems were a “potential risk to patient safety” and said that “Kaiser’s previous efforts to improve access have been largely ineffective.”

That’s a welcome development, but it begs the question of why more Kaiser workers aren’t being called in as well. Kaiser has about 149,000 healthcare employees plus 16,000 physicians in California. About 700 Kaiser operating engineers 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 below-inflation wage increases and no staff guarantees. Nurses opposed to UNAC/UNHCP (United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals) sabotage of the struggle formed a committee of rank-and-file workers to fight to give the struggle new leadership outside the union bureaucracy .

There is an opportunity for a powerful united movement of health care professionals against the never-ending 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” is 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 the commitments are three weeks, even a month, a month and a half. We just don’t have the staff for it. We don’t have the resources, and we need more. We’re all so exhausted and people leave quickly.’

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