For most people, by the time your children are in college or beyond, you’re more likely to be thinking about retirement than education. But Kaiser shop stewards Lisa Golden and Jennifer Brown are not most people.
Jennifer currently has three children in college—a 24-year-old nursing student at Marymount University, a 21-year-old attending community college, and an 18-year freshman at Virginia Tech University. But she has joined them, pursuing a Master’s in Nursing Education at Colorado Technical University (CTU). “We bond and commiserate over due dates and exams,” she said. “And we tease my husband and tell him to go back to college and do something. “
Lisa, who has raised three sons, with one still in college, also decided it was time to go back to school—first for a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) and now for a Master’s in Nursing Education.
And neither Jennifer nor Lisa is paying a penny to realize their dreams of higher education and career advancement—thanks to their union.
That’s because Local 400 and the other members of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions negotiated the establishment of the Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust in the 2005 national bargaining. The Trust offers Kaiser union members grants for higher education and training, “with the goal of creating a culture that values and invests in lifelong learning and enhanced career development opportunities for represented employees.”
Several years ago, Lisa, the lead OB-GYN nurse at Kaiser’s Manassas Health Center, applied for and received a grant to pursue her BSN degree. “I feel so blessed to work for a company that has the Ben Hudnall Trust and that my union offers this,” she said. “It is such an awesome opportunity and one that very few other companies have. I feel like pinching myself. Parenting has shown me the expense of higher education. How can you turn down free learning opportunities?”
“It took 16 months,” she said. “I loved being an adult learner. I had no idea I’d be as good a student as I was. But I discovered that now I have the patience to learn and none of the distractions of youth. I enjoyed almost every moment of it. And at the end, I said, ‘If they offer a Master’s program, I’d be a fool to pass it up.’”
Lisa is no fool. In January, the Hudnall Trust started offering commitment grants for Kaiser union members to get a Master’s Degree in Nursing Education. (Grants for a Master’s in Nursing Administration are also available.) And on April 3rd, armed with her grant, Lisa will start classes.
Lisa credits Jennifer, an OB-GYN nurse at Kaiser’s Woodbridge Health Center, with making her aware of this new opportunity. Jennifer started the same program on February 13th.
“When I came to Kaiser two and a half years ago, I had already gotten my BSN,” Jennifer said. “Unlike Lisa, I had to pay tuition for that because my employer didn’t offer any help. But as soon as I learned about the Hudnall Trust, I went to our education liaison and asked if it would cover a Master’s program. She told me to keep checking back, so I did—like a pest. And in January, they came through. The moment I heard, I picked up phone and said, ‘I want in!’”
Now nearing the end of her first class, Jennifer said, “Considering I haven’t been in school for a while, the experience has been pretty awesome. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I will tell you hands down that CTU is doing phenomenal job of guiding me through this.
“What’s especially nice is they make it easy for you,” she said. “There’s a great orientation course. Textbooks are provided for free in e-book form. They lend you a Chrome Computer with all the software you need for free. And best of all, the Hudnall Trust offers a stipend so if you need to miss one eight-hour shift a week to study, you’ll get paid for that, too.”
Before joining Kaiser, Jennifer was a senior regional trainer for the Patient First urgent care center chain. As she noted, “I have a natural passion for teaching and after I get my Master’s, I intend to be a nurse educator. My co-workers think I’m nuts; I’ve been telling them all to go to school. I don’t care what your position is, education is the key to everything, so when it’s free you’ve got to take advantage.”
Lisa couldn’t agree more, calling it a “no-brainer.” She also intends to be a nursing educator after she receives her degree. “Old dogs can still learn new tricks,” she said. “There’s no cap on age; you should learn the rest of your life.”
Lisa started at Kaiser in 1999. After providing medical advice for five years, she became a clinical nurse. And for the past nine years, she has served as shop steward. “Early in my career, I learned first-hand what my union could do for me, helping to resolve an issue I faced. Several years later, when I saw others weren’t getting a fair shake, I felt like I should be their voice, to help walk them through the process.
“I worked in a non-union environment before I came to Kaiser,” Lisa said. “It stinks. You have no rights and no voice. Coming to Kaiser and finding it’s a union shop, I thought, “Oh my God, there’s power here!’ I feel like we’re on equal ground when we go into a meeting and represent our members. We’re all equal partners. Not only do we get great pay and benefits, but most importantly, we have power in numbers and a seat at the table.
“Being a steward has been a really fulfilling experience,” she added. “It has helped me hone my management skills.”
Jennifer has been a shop steward for approximately two years, and most of her previous jobs were non-union, too. “Working in other facilities, as nurses, we don’t have much of a voice in what we do and how we do it,” she said. “But I saw how we have a voice at Kaiser, thanks to our union, and being a steward was something I wanted to be part of.
“As a natural teacher, I take this role very seriously,” Jennifer said. “I make the rounds and let people know I’m available. When we get new staff, I talk with them about the benefits of being union. I try to be proactive and let people know not to wait until a small problem becomes big problem. When they come to me sooner rather than later, we can be a lot more effective when we intercede on their behalf. And I make sure they read their contract.”
Jennifer is proud to be a Local 400 member. “It means knowing that I have someone to fight for me, and to support our local and national agreements,” she said. “It’s nice to know the protection is there. And it’s nice to have the Labor-Management Partnership, which often works very well in our facility.”
Learn More About the Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust
Both Lisa and Jennifer strongly encourage Kaiser members to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered by the Hudnall Trust. To find out more, please visit the Trust’s website at www.bhmt.org.
For additional information, Virginia and Washington, D.C. members can contact Kaiser career counselor Mary Wiggins, M.Ed. at (510) 381-7033 or Mary.C.Wiggins@kp.org. Maryland members should contact Robin B. Kelly at (240) 298-8026 or Robin.B.Kelly@kp.org.