REDWOOD CITY (KRON) – Kaiser Permanente’s mental health professionals are now in their fourth day of striking.

The strike, involving about 2,000 therapists and counselors in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, and Fresno, has now expanded to Kaiser locations in Santa Rosa and Redwood City.

The therapists say they are looking for more staffing help so they can spend more time on existing cases, which will allow them to be seen more quickly.

In a statement to KRON4, Matthew Artz of the National Union of Healthcare Workers stated that clinicians in Hawaii will be joining the strike next week on an open-ended basis.

“Kaiser’s business model is to starve its behavioral health services and short change patients who can go months without care,” said Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents Kaiser clinicians in both the Golden and Aloha states. “Through strike activity our members are using their power to make Kaiser stop treating mental health care as a second-class service and start providing care that its paying customers are legally entitled to receive.”

Deb Catsavas, senior vice president of human resources for Kaiser, issued a lengthy statement to KRON4 early Thursday in which he said the company is operating in good faith.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers has called for an open-ended strike to begin on Monday, August 15, pulling nearly 2,000 mental health professionals away from their patients across Northern California. Despite the strike, we have plans in place to meet our members’ mental health needs.

Kaiser Permanente has been negotiating with the union for more than a year. There are two key issues we have been bargaining over: one is wage increases and the other is the union’s demand to increase the time therapists spend on tasks other than seeing patients.

The primary role – and essential need – for our therapists is to provide mental health care and treat our patients. The remaining issue being negotiated with NUHW is the amount of time therapists spend on administrative tasks such as documentation, planning and other office activities rather than directly treating patients. In recognition of our therapists’ concerns and priorities, we have proposed an increase in the scheduled time allocated to administrative tasks, but the union is demanding still more administrative time.

As an example, under the current collective bargaining agreement, a 40 hour per week therapist whose only job is to provide patient therapy would spend 34 hours seeing patients with 6 hours reserved for administrative tasks. We have proposed increasing the time for administrative tasks in this example to 7.2 hours, leaving 32.8 hours to see patients. The union is demanding 9 hours for administrative work, which would leave only 31 hours to see patients.

The union’s demand flies in the face of a 30 percent increase in demand for mental health care and NUHW’s own commitments to help improve access to mental health care. Our patients cannot afford a proposal that significantly reduces time available to care for our patients and their mental health needs.

For the entirety of its 12 years of existence, NUHW has used the threat of strikes as a bargaining tactic in every contract negotiation. This will be the second time in a year the union has called on mental health providers to walk away from our patients.

We have the deepest appreciation and gratitude for our mental health professionals and the extraordinary care they provide to our members. We recently reached an agreement with the same union in Southern California for 1,900 mental health professionals.

Despite the union’s harmful tactics, we remain committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable agreement that is good for our therapists and our patients.