San Jose, CA

Kaiser mental health staff, nurses sympathy strike following last-minute deal earlier this week

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(SAN JOSE, Calif.) Kaiser nurses and mental health staff initiated a sympathy strike Thursday, standing with engineers in their company who have been striking for more than a month, shortly after a tentative deal was reached with the healthcare giant early this week.

Hundreds of nurses and other staff walked off the job on Friday morning in San Jose and additional picket lines are planned at Kaiser locations throughout the Bay Area.

"It’s just unimaginably sad that the company we’ve worked for tirelessly during this pandemic the past two years is turning their backs on the employees the way they are,” Kimberly Sullivan, a staff nurse in the ICU, told The East Bay Times. "I think it’s just ridiculous that Kaiser has let these workers be on strike for nine and a half weeks."

Roughly 20,000 workers, at locations across the Bay Area from Vallejo to Walnut Creek, were expected to join the strike. The engineers, who are represented by IUOE Stationary Engineers, Local 39 have been on strike since Sept. 17 when their contracts expired. They're pushing for higher wages.

Hospital engineers help maintain and monitor a variety of health and organizational systems at all the Kaiser locations throughout the Bay Area. Kaiser has categorized the push for higher wages as "unreasonable" and in a statement released Friday, indicated they would be hiring temporary workers, often called scabs, to fill the positions.

According to SEIU-UHW representatives, Kaiser officials have not even attempted to negotiate with engineers in recent weeks. This comes after the private insurer reached a tentative deal with pharmacists in its company overnight Monday.

Mental health professionals, whose contract expired Oct. 1, indicated that Kaiser failed to take necessary steps to mitigate the "unsustainable" caseload like hiring more bilingual therapists and increasing staffing generally.

"A month is a very long time,” Joanna Manqueros, a therapist at Kaiser Oakland, told The East Bay Times. “Depression is a serious mental health condition and just like an untreated diabetic or an untreated person with a severe cardiac condition, serious ramifications can include death and this is true for many of the mental health conditions that we treat."

Kaiser has categorized the strike as unnecessary but was reportedly unwilling to meet the wage demands for engineers.

In total Kaiser has roughly 12 million healthcare customers, 39 hospitals and collects roughly $89 billion in revenue.

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