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Kaiser mental health workers call off Tuesday strike

The union representing Kaiser Permanente mental health therapists in Sonoma County has called off a statewide strike scheduled for Tuesday that would have affected an estimated 100 local workers.

The move comes after Kaiser and the National Union of Healthcare Workers negotiated through the weekend with a “neutral facilitator,” Kaiser said in a statement late Sunday. Kaiser said the union’s decision was “the responsible thing to do.”

Following progress at the bargaining table in recent weeks, the bargaining teams representing 4,000 Kaiser mental health clinicians and health care professionals throughout California voted unanimously Sunday to call off an open-ended strike scheduled to begin Tuesday. Key state legislators had challenged the union Friday to resume negotiations and reach a settlement.

“Kaiser’s last offer is better than before our members authorized an open-ended strike last month,” NUHW president Sal Rosselli said in a statement. “We feel that a settlement is within reach, and remain ready to work with Kaiser on a fair contract.”

NUHW represents 4,000 Kaiser Permanente psychologists, therapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and other health care professionals in the state. The union has said that workload, staffing and pay are the key sticking points in negotiations.

The union contends Kaiser, a major health care provider, is focusing only on the initial intake and scheduling of mental health patients, increasingly done by regional call center staff, rather than hiring more therapists for follow-up therapy sessions.

Rosselli accused Kaiser of “refusing to meet with us,” but John Nelson, a Kaiser spokesman, rejected Rosselli’s comments as a mischaracterization of the company’s position.

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