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200 Kaiser Employees Strike In San Diego

Aired 9/21/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Joining us on Midday Edition today, Mary Ann Barnes, Senior Vice President and Executive Director at Kaiser Permanente, San Diego and Jim Clifford, therapist at Kaiser Permanente, San Diego.

About 200 Kaiser Permanente employees plan to walk off the job today to protest proposed benefit cuts and what they regard as insufficient staffing levels.

Audiologists, dieticians, health educators, social workers, speech pathologists and mental health therapists are scheduled to picket at the Kaiser

Hospital in San Diego, according to Leighton Woodhouse of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. He said the employees are scheduled to return to work Friday.

The NUHW and Kaiser have been negotiating for 1 1/2 years in Southern California with no movement toward resolution, according to Woodhouse. The sticking points are proposed lower retirement and health benefits, which come at a time when the company is making record profits, he said.

"We see no economic justification for it,'' Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse said the mental health workers are also trying to get staffing levels increased because patients are having to wait five or six weeks for appointments, and are then directed to group therapy sessions that may not be appropriate for them.

The same workers staged a one-day walkout in May, and Kaiser officials said the impact on care was minimal.

In a statement, Kaiser, which was also coping with a strike by nurses in Los Angeles, said plans were being made to "minimize the impact on our services and on our members' and patients' care during and after the work stoppage.''

"We want you all to know that the nurses and other health care workers who are on strike are valued members of our health-care team and we look forward to welcoming our employees back when the strike concludes,'' according to Kaiser. "Providing quality health care and ensuring the safety of our members and patients is our highest priority.''

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