California health care union protests Joe Biden fundraiser

PHOTO: Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a rally with members of a painters and construction union, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Henderson, Nev.PlayAP Photo/John Locher
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A health care union in California held a protest at a fundraiser for former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden held at the home of a board member for Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

A small group of members from the National Union of Healthcare Workers -- which represents 3,500 mental health clinicians who work for Kaiser Permanente in California—stood outside the home of Cynthia Telles, a member of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan boards of directors, to protest long wait times for patients to receive follow-up care and fight inequities between mental health care and medical health care with Kaiser Permanente.

"Our patients are waiting six to eight weeks for a follow up. Many of our patients are suicidal. Many of our patients are severely depressed and to wait six to eight weeks is a travesty," Eric Pierce, a clinician for Kaiser Permanente told ABC News Wednesday.

PHOTO: Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a rally with members of a painters and construction union, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Henderson, Nev. AP Photo/John Locher
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a rally with members of a painters and construction union, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Henderson, Nev.

Union President Sal Rosselli told ABC News Tuesday that his members hope Biden, who has been an advocate for mental health care, will support the union's position.

"We want to shed more light on the inadequacies of mental health care at Kaiser to frankly force the corporation into, again, doing it right -- offer mental health care at the same level as medical care. And we're hoping the vice president will help us accomplish that."

Kaiser Permanente and the National Union of Healthcare Workers have been in active bargaining for nearly a year, according to a statement released by the company. In December, 4,000 Kaiser mental health employees walked off the job for five days, striking over understaffing that led to long wait times for patients.

A Kaiser Permanente representative issued a statement to the press at the event responding to the protests.

"This is a publicity stunt by union leadership disguised as a bargaining tactic aimed at disrupting a board member’s event," John Nelson, Vice President of Communications for Kaiser said in a statement.

"We remain committed to reaching a fair agreement in the best interest of all, one that advances our goal of leading the country in mental health services. However, today’s stunt does nothing to help reach an agreement, nothing to improve mental health care and nothing to build trust and mutual respect. It only makes it harder for us to achieve our common goals."

Wednesday's protest comes on the heels of several union-centric events Biden has held as he kicks off his 2020 candidacy. A large part of Biden's campaign message has focused on the middle class, and the unions' roles in creating it.

Biden's first public event as a candidate took place at a union hall in Pittsburgh on April 29. That same day, Biden was endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, whose members came out to support Biden during stops in Iowa and Pennsylvania.

But Biden could have a hard time winning over another health care union--National Nurses United, which has 150,000 members nationwide, and is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses, has come out in strong support of creating a Medicare-for-All healthcare system in the United States.

Biden told ABC's "Good Morning America" Co-Anchor Robin Roberts that he favors strengthening the Affordable Care Act and providing a Medicare-for-all option

A spokesperson for the National Nurses United union, Mercy Albaran, told ABC News that the union will "support any candidates that will fight for Medicare for all."

PHOTO: Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a rally with members of a painters and construction union, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Henderson, Nev. AP Photo/John Locher
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a rally with members of a painters and construction union, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Henderson, Nev.

Rosselli says it's Biden's past comments on mental health, not his union ties, that he hopes will convince the vice president to support their cause.

"It's not just about the union part. The quote on our leaflet is a quote from him, which is, 'A majority of Americans, including children in this country, need mental health care and they're not getting it,'" Rosselli said.

"I would say to Vice President Biden if I had an opportunity, 'Nine million Californians who have Kaiser Permanente insurance are paying their monthly premiums and they're not getting the care that they're paying for."

But Piece hoped Biden’s ties would help him see the bigger picture of the protests.

"Joe said 'I'm a union man.' Mr. Vice President, I’m a union man too, but you know as a union man that unions are for the communities they work in and work for -- they’re not just for the membership. They’re for the community. So I ask Mr. Vice President to join us, help us advocate with Cynthia Telles to help the community we serve," Pierce said.

Rosselli tells ABC News that the union made several attempts to reach out to the Biden campaign, but received no response.

Biden did not address the protests during his remarks at the fundraiser and the Biden campaign declined to comment for this story.