Kaiser Mental-Health Workers Reject Latest Contract Offer

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente facilities rejected the latest contract offer from the company, union officials announced today as they called for a resumption of labor negotiations.

Leaders of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, representing about 4,000 mental health clinicians and other medical professionals, had recommended rejection of the contract offer.

``Kaiser has acknowledged that it's facing a mental health crisis, but its proposals didn't offer clinicians meaningful solutions to provide timely, adequate care for patients,'' Clement Papazian, a Kaiser clinical social workers, said in a statement released by the union. ``We could not support a contract that offered no significant immediate relief for unsustainable caseloads and longer waits than ever for care.''

Kaiser officials said the contract proposal would ensure the workers remained ``the best compensated in California,'' while also making schedule adjustments to provide more time for patient care and creating a workgroup to overhaul the delivery of mental-health care.

``We have been disappointed by the decision of NUHW leadership to urge the rejection of the contract proposal and effectively postpone the improvements we agree need to be made immediately,'' said John Nelson, Kaiser vice president of corporate communications.''

In a statement released prior to the announcement of the union vote, Nelson said Kaiser is already moving forward with the hiring of more than 300 therapists, investing $700 million in mental health facilities and ``committing more than $50 million in the next three years to increase the number of people entering and remaining in the mental health professions.''

NUHW members staged a five-day statewide strike at Kaiser facilities in December. The union had planned a walkout in June, but it was called off when NUHW leaders said there had been ``progress at the bargaining table.''

On Thursday, the union called for an immediate resumption of contract talks and called on Kaiser to work with clinicians to assess staffing needs at all of its facilities.

``We're asking for Kaiser to provide the same quality care for patients seeking mental health treatment as it does for patients seeking medical care,'' NUHW President Sal Rosselli said in a statement.

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