In Northern California, health system Kaiser Permanente and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) have reached a tentative agreement for a new contract after nearly five years of protracted negotiations and repeated strikes.
On Sunday, the union accepted Kaiser Permanente's three-year proposal, with some modifications, and cancelled its strike that was set to begin on November 16. NUHW members, which represent mental health professionals, will vote to ratify the new contract in the coming weeks.
According to the San Francisco Business Times, the union was asking for a 19 percent pay increase over three years, plus $15,000 in bonuses per employee. Kaiser's previous offer included 12 percent pay hikes and up to $12,000 in performance bonuses.
Kaiser officials also said mental health therapists were spending 60 percent of their time with patients, and administrators wanted to increase that time requirement to 75 percent. Employees said the rule was too rigid and didn’t account for no-shows.
The final negotiated deal struck Sunday provides for more appointments in therapists' schedules for returning patients, coupled with an expectation that therapists will increase the amount of work time spent seeing patients in individual appointments. Kaiser Permanente says it has hired hundreds of new therapists in the past five years and will continue to hire more. The model allows patients who can't gain access to system providers in a timely manner to seek covered services outside the system.
After four years of no pay increases, wages will increase 6 percent in year one of the contract, 4.5 percent in year two, and 4.5 percent in year three. There is also a bilingual pay differential.