Labor Day, LMP Style
The partnership’s top leaders reflect on the value of our approach
While many people prepare to relax and celebrate the upcoming Labor Day holiday, thousands of Kaiser Permanente employees like you will be hard at work. Laboratory technicians will be analyzing samples and posting results to enable timely diagnoses for anxious patients. EVS workers will be carefully wiping door handles and counters at our hospitals to help prevent the spread of infection.
Together, you—members of locals in the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, managers, physicians and other professional staff—all keep us well. And thanks to our Labor Management Partnership, we can speak up and listen to one another’s ideas. This cooperative approach leads to solutions and has the power to heal the nation’s health care system.
The news is quick to feature innovation that’s sparked by 20-somethings at start-ups or MBAs with impressive titles. But we are proving that innovation in health also comes from frontline employees—especially when we join together to solve problems. This is what Labor Day is really about: recognizing and valuing the contributions of workers.
Frontline teams driving improvement
Thanks to more than 3,500 unit-based teams, co-led by union members and their managers, we are tackling issues from shortening patients’ time in the waiting room to improving blood pressure rates in low-income communities. You can probably think of many examples from your own UBT. Here’s one we love to tell people about: The team at the neonatal intensive care unit of our Downey Medical Center in Southern California invited parents to join an advisory group. They made improvements such as installing video cameras so parents could see their children from home and providing a place to store mothers’ breast milk. “They helped us change a lot of things on our unit for the better,” says team member Marnie Morales, RN, who’s represented by United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, an affiliate of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
UBTs ensure that frontline employees, managers and physicians work together to improve quality, service and affordability in their departments. They didn’t simply materialize out of thin air. They are enshrined in our National Agreement. If you are a KP employee who is a member of one of our coalition unions, you have likely already voted on ratification of our most recent national agreement, which is scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1. You are part of a notable historical moment. That agreement is this year’s largest private-sector contract in the United States.
A national model
As with all of our National Agreements, this one goes beyond providing excellent wages and benefits. In addition to UBTs, it provides for top-notch training and education to prepare people for future changes in health care. This kind of mutual respect is bringing success to the organization and increasing job satisfaction, translating to some of the lowest hospital employee turnover rates in the industry. It’s a successful model that we encourage other health care organizations and unions to follow.
After 18 years, we know that partnership works. Kaiser Permanente’s quality and service scores are higher than ever, and the organization and unions are both healthy and growing. When employees have the power to improve practices—not just influence, but real power—and when managers and employees solve problems together, it’s a winning solution. You might even say that in the LMP, every day is Labor Day.
Dennis Dabney is the senior vice president, Kaiser Permanente National Labor Relations and Office of Labor Management Partnership. Hal Ruddick is the executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, AFL-CIO. Jim Pruitt is vice president, LMP and Labor Relations, The Permanente Federation. Together, the three provide leadership to the LMP.