Labor Sponsor Profile: Andrea Badellebess
Andrea Badellebess has been a labor co-sponsor in the Greater Southern Alameda Area (GSAA) in the Northern California region for seven years. She sponsors 37 teams—including EVS, Health Management and the pharmacy UBTs, all of which include OPEIU Local 29 members—by “spreading myself around as much as I possibly can.” In talking with LMP communications consultants Shawn Masten and Cassandra Braun about the challenges and rewards of being a labor sponsor, she introduced the idea of a “family team”—a team that is above even Level 5, when “teams just interact and do what’s needed…It’s a real partnership. And it’s unspoken; it just gets done. It’s not about whose job it is.”
Q. First: How do you sponsor 37 teams?
A. Mostly, I do it electronically. I look at team meeting minutes on the shared drive and look at UBT Tracker to see where they are on projects. For those teams that are unique and need additional pushes, I work with our UBT consultant and visit them more often. If they’re a Level 5 team, I try to get to meetings at least two to three times a year. Then I have teams that need a little more motivation. I have to visit those teams more often to let them know they’re not by themselves. So it’s kind of hard. But you have to let them know you’re there.
Q. What’s the state of sponsorship today?
A. The work of sponsors has evolved slower than the work of unit-based teams. At one point, teams thought their consultants were their sponsors. But that’s the beauty of this whole performance improvement thing—it is its own ongoing small test of change. Everyone is learning as they go. There’s been a whole new culture change.
Q. What about sponsorship needs improving?
A. Here in the GSAA, we have been taking steps to improve union sponsorship especially. There are not enough people who can wear that sponsor hat. So now we are looking for stewards who want to—and have the capacity to—be sponsors. They have to be capable of seeing the common barriers teams face. And they have to either know who can remove those barriers or to point their teams in a different direction. What we’re doing is providing the training and development needed for stewards to succeed as sponsors. This is a significant shift, and one that we hope will make a difference.
Q. What do you like most about being a sponsor?
A. One of my greatest thrills—and sometimes one of my hardest jobs—is helping UBT members recognize that if they speak up they will be listened to. This is still hard for some, especially those skeptical that this whole unit-based team thing isn’t just another experiment that will pass. But this is what I tell them: “You are the experts. Who knows how to do your job better than you?” Once they realize they are the experts and have a say, and they are heard, they become a partner. UBTs make the frontline staff become partners. You’re not just a worker, you’re a partner, and you have a say in what’s going on.
Q. Can you give an example where the workers solved the problem?
A. Our call center operators were having a problem with elderly members getting hung up on or calls being dropped after they were transferred. They came together as a unit-based team and found a solution: Instead of simply putting such calls through, they stayed on the line and would talk with the person at the other end, explain who the member was and why they were calling. They had a problem, they solved it and there was no finger-pointing, no blame.
Words from the front line
“She’s very involved. It’s not like you just see her once a month or every other month. And you can tell that she’s interested in what we’re trying to say and do. If we go out of bounds, she’ll ask, ‘Is this what you meant?’”—Leilani Mejia, Health Information Management specialist, OPEIU Local 29 member and union co-lead, Fremont Medical Center