1-day strike impacts East Bay mental health patients

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Mental health therapists at Kaiser Permanente in Pleasanton are on strike today.

Twenty employees spent the morning picketing in front of the medical center on Stoneridge Drive before heading over to Oakland for a rally in front of the company's headquarters.

Appointments were canceled for today while the employees are on strike. Therapists say they are fighting for better patient care and better pay in order to retain employees.

RELATED: Hundreds of Kaiser staff members march outside Oakland hospital ahead of October strike

"Kaiser has it right now that you will talk to someone by phone for thirty minutes after waiting two weeks for an appointment. And then maybe 2 weeks after that you might see one of us. It could be as much as 7 weeks or some people 90 days to make an appointment," said Psychotherapist Laura Fischler.

Kaiser officials say their offer addresses the issue of staffing.

"We are hiring. Since 2015 we have increased our mental health workforce by thirty percent and just since this July we have opened up and are hiring 300 new therapist positions," said Guy Qvistgaard, Kaiser's Interim Area Manager. Those positions are for the Northern California Region.

Employees say they aren't seeing improvements. They also want a wage increase, saying therapists can't afford to live here.

"We have three openings right now and we had three people just give notice so we are understaffed because therapists here get burned out. They are exhausted. We have one therpapist for every 4,000 members, the caseloads are enormous," said Fischler who works at the Pleasanton location.

RELATED: Kaiser mental health workers strike in San Francisco, demand more staffing for patients

A Kaiser spokesman sent this statement regarding their current offer:
"We have presented an excellent offer that will keep our therapists the most highly compensated in California. The offer includes a 3% salary increase for the first year of the agreement; plus in years two and three, therapists will receive an increase of 2.75% to their base salary and an additional 0.25% cash payment. There will also be additional increases (market adjustments) varying by licensure for Licensed Clinical Social Workers, LPCCs, and Marriage and Family Therapists, who will receive an additional 4% in year 1 (total 7% increase); and Addiction Medicine & Recovery Services Counselors who will receive 5% in year 1 (total 8% increase)."

Fischler says employees can't make ends meet.

"We have therapists who commute an hour and half to get to work because they can't afford to live in the area," she said.

We also asked Kaiser about employees concerns about the money Kaiser spent for naming rights at San Francisco's Chase Center. We got this response:

"Our partnership with the Golden State Warriors goes far beyond a traditional sports sponsorship. Ultimately, we're proud of the long-term commitment Kaiser Permanente has made to our fans, its members and the entire Bay Area. Together, we have built a unique and innovative relationship that will continue to respond to the health, wellness and educational needs of the communities we serve. While we don't typically comment on the financial terms of our partnerships, it's worth clarifying that the 'Thrive City' component of this partnership includes a $2.5 million investment annually over 20 years from Kaiser Permanente - not the $295 million that has been reported, and far less than the hundreds of millions of dollars Kaiser Permanente invests into caring for its members, into its mental health efforts, and into meeting the needs of this community."

The two sides have been negotiating for more than a year. There are currently no plans to return to the bargaining table. The therapists plan to be back at work tomorrow.
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