Rehabilitation therapists at Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii recently voted to join United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP). The sixty Hawaii therapists become the latest in a wave of therapists, pharmacists, and other health care professionals that have joined UNAC/UHCP to gain a stronger voice in the health care profession, secure better benefits and improve the quality of patient care.
The therapists, consisting of speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists in Oahu, Maui and The Big Island (Hawaii), officially started organizing in late January 2020 and reached majority in March.
Jennifer Tapler, MPT, an Outpatient Physical Therapist at Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani Elua Clinic, said the victory will ensure that unilateral changes can no longer be made to their working conditions. Now, the therapists are looking forward to having a voice in how care is provided in Hawaii.
“Hawaii is unique because we have geographical distances all the time. Being spread out on different islands, we did not have a strong or united voice in the decisions that were being made about our practice. We weren’t the ones making decisions about what was best for our patients,” said Tapler.
“Also, each facility could not provide the same level of care to our patients due to fluctuations in staffing level and access to resources at each work location. It was frustrating.”
Tapler also mentioned that the therapists now have the strength to protect and improve their wages, benefits, and working conditions.
“We knew that we were one of the few departments left within Kaiser in Hawaii that were not unionized but we had no idea where to start. After we spoke to UNAC/UHCP, everyone on the organizing committee was 100% onboard and everything happened quickly.”
“Despite the initial impact of COVID-19, we were able to communicate with our colleagues and gather support to win our union. However, it did slow down our official vote count.”
Now that the votes have been counted, the therapists are embarking on the next step, which is to negotiate their first contract.
“We are looking forward to winning our first contract but we’re already seeing the benefits of joining UNAC/UHCP,” said Tapler. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were having issues with telehealth and didn’t have devices we needed to do video visits with our patients. After joining UNAC/UHCP, we were able to get the devices quickly after trying to get it on our own.”
“Now we have the support we need to advance our profession.”