For Health Care Professionals Having a Union is Key
By Kathy Wall, Au.D. Clinical Audiologist, Local 400 Kaiser shop steward

Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership (LMP) may be unique in the corporate world. The LMP is an honest effort to bring the workers and administration together to work for the greater good of the employees and the organization. One of the best examples of this is the Unit Based Teams program (UBT), which was implemented in our last contract. The UBT program provides a vehicle for employees to make suggestions on what is working and what is not based on their first-hand experiences working the floor. This program also offers the opportunity for employees to identify problems, develop goals to address the problems, and measure their progress in reaching a successful outcome or solution. It is a bottom up process, a true partnership. Not only is the sponsorship for this program coming from both corporate management and the union, but management and a labor-appointed employee also lead the unit based teams.

As health care providers, we face unique challenges in the workplace. We have patients who need us to help them get or stay well, and those needs may not fall nicely within that 8:30-5:00 window.  When caring for a patient, you can’t just get up and walk out when the whistle blows; someone’s life may truly depend on your staying on the job. You are dedicated to your patient’s well being… But you do have a life of your own, right? How, then, do you balance your own lifestyle needs with doing the work that keeps your patient safe, and lets him know that his well-being is your primary concern?

Many times the answer is based on how well we as a union have done our job. UFCW has a prominent presence in Kaiser Permanente. Reasonable staffing with appropriate backfill means you go home on time, and the patient is cared for by the late shift. No forced overtime is one example of a contractual benefit negotiated for us by UFCW.  While we will always have challenges meeting every aspect of contract protection in every instance, shop stewards are available to provide clarification to both members and management when a question arises.

Our union membership helps protect us in the workplace, helps provide us with quality health care, and helps us plan for retirement. Every member has the right to union representation in any corrective action that is brought. And note that phrase: corrective action. At Kaiser, when an employee misses the mark in performance, there is no punitive reaction from management. Rather, the goal is to re-direct the employee’s work or behavior to achieve the required improvement. This is done through a structured agreement between the employee, the supervisor, and the shop steward.

So, yes, Kaiser’s LMP may indeed be unique in the business world. Few corporations make the commitment Kaiser and UFCW have made to keep employees safer, healthier, empowered to make change and to give them a greater say in how they do their jobs.  This is a partnership in action that keeps both labor and management accountable for success.