Updated: November 30, 2023
Kaiser mental health therapists in Hawaiʻi voted overwhelmingly Saturday to ratify a new three-year contract, effectively ending a 172-day strike–the longest by mental health care workers in US history, according to union representatives.
Approximately 50 psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and chemical dependency counselors went on strike nearly six months ago on Aug. 29.
Members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers reached the agreement with Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi, which calls for raises and safeguards retirement benefits for therapists.
Kaiser Permanente released a statement following the vote saying they are pleased with the outcome of the NUHW ratification vote, calling it a “fair and equitable agreement.”
“We are glad to have them back, doing what they do best, caring for patients. We are also extremely grateful to the many community providers who opened additional appointments during the strike to ensure Kaiser Permanente members received the care they needed,” according to Kaiser.
The union reports that key contract provisions include:
- Wage increases of at least 3% in 2023 and 2024 and 2% in 2025.
- Preserving pension benefits for new hires.
- An extra $1.50 per hour for bilingual therapists to help Kaiser meet the needs of non-English speakers.
Despite the ratification, representatives say the agreement lacks measures therapists had sought to improve access to care. Members say that while wage increases are included, they are still substantially lower than what counterparts in California reached after a strike last year.
“This contract is a lot better than what Kaiser was offering when we started our strike last August, but it’s still not enough to address the understaffing crisis that forces Kaiser members to wait months for mental health therapy,” said Andrea Kumura, a social worker at Kaiser’s Waipio Clinic and member of the NUHW Bargaining Committee in a union press release. “I’m proud that we took a stand for patients, and I’m ready to keep fighting to make Kaiser deliver mental health care that meets the needs of its members.”
Rachel Kaya, a psychologist for Kaiser on Maui said she’s grateful for the community and those who contributed to a strike fund. “Our strike is over, but our fight to make Kaiser deliver timely, accessible mental health care for the people of Hawai’i is only just beginning,” she said in a union press release.