Kaiser psychiatric workers spend the day picketing as the strike enters its second week

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Labor Day is usually celebrated with picnics and parades. But staff at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii’s mental health department spent much of the day picketing lines.

The striking Kaiser employees – including 57 psychologists, social workers, nurses and counselors – are demanding better pay and more staff.

They said the current salary scale is not enough to support the rising cost of living here. Honolulu’s inflation rate is now around 6.3%.

“It is extremely difficult for us to cover the cost of living. Over 60% of our employees actually have a part-time job. And you know, we’re talking about people with advanced degrees here,” said Andrea Kumura, clinical social worker at Kaiser.

Kaiser’s mental health workers said they didn’t get raises to match cost-of-living increases because — despite organizing four years ago — they don’t have a contract with Kaiser.

But Kaiser said it offers attractive salary packages and has hired 28 clinicians in its mental health department since it began for 2021.

“We are committed to remaining an employer of choice for mental health professionals by continuing to provide our employees with market-leading wages and benefits,” the company said.

High costs harm not only employees but also employers.

Businesses like restaurants and service providers have seen sharp increases in food and energy costs over the past year.

And due to the labor shortage, many companies had to increase wages by up to 10% last year. Some offer cash rewards to new hires.

“Costs have been increasing everywhere, no matter what business you’re in — whether it’s just your direct costs, labor costs and other overheads,” said Ryan Tanaka, chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

Kaiser’s mental health staff and management will resume negotiations on Tuesday.

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