Partnership Beats the Odds

Speaker addresses a large meeting

Peter diCicco, the founding director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, addresses KP and union representatives negotiating the second of five national agreements, in 2005.

Kaiser Permanente and Coalition of KP Unions celebrate 20 years of partnership

Forty percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce after an average of eight years. Most business partnerships fail to meet expectations. And most campaigns end when they achieve their goals or the world moves on.

But the Labor Management Partnership between Kaiser Permanente and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions has beaten the odds: October 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the partnership’s founding, making it by far the largest, longest-running and most sweeping such partnership in the country.

We’ve accomplished a lot together. And in a world of change, sustaining a healthy long-term relationship is an achievement in itself. A key to our success has been the willingess to honestly reflect on our successes, failures, and opportunities to improve. 

By working in partnership, says Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson, “We have tapped into the potential of smart people all over the organization coming here every single day trying to figure out, ‘How do I improve quality, how do I improve service, how do I improve affordability?’ That’s an incredible competitive advantage for the organization.”

Marking a milestone

This fall Kaiser Permanente and the union coalition will be celebrating those achievements with special events and employee outreach. It won’t be all cake and balloons, however. LMP regional councils, unit-based team sponsors and co-leads, and others will host reflection sessions where workers, managers and physicians can share their experiences, pain points and suggestions for the future of partnership. Participants will consider three questions:

  • What is different since we created partnership? (Or, what do you see as the top accomplishments of partnership?)
  • What are the greatest challenges it faces today?
  • How might we address those challenges, to strengthen partnership now and in the future?

Getting results

Partnership is not easy, and the parties don’t always agree on things. So what’s kept it going?

“It’s nice if we can all get along,” says Tyson. “But most important, we’re here to get results.” Here are some of the results achieved in partnership:

  • Performance improvement: More than 50,000 team-led improvement projects since 2007, with measurable gains in quality, service, the work environment—and cost savings exceeding $48 million in 2016.
  • Best place to work: Industry-leading wages and benefits, a voice in decision making, and an Employment and Income Security Agreement providing retraining and redeployment for displaced workers.
  • Joint marketing: Strategic engagement brought strong gains in KP membership, union coalition membership, and more than $108 million in revenue for Kaiser Permanente in 2016.
  • Job training and career advancement: More than 300,000 professional, academic and skill-enhancement courses taken by 104,000 coalition-represented employees since 2007.
  • Systems collaboration: Joint implemention of multiple complex programs and systems, including KP HealthConnect, Claims Connect, ICD-10 and call center reorganization.

Lessons for success

All of the above have garnered attention from business, union and academic leaders over the years.

“The Labor Management Partnership is a shining example of how you bring labor and management together to produce results,” said Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. “What I love about this model is the notion that, no matter where you work in the system, you have a place at the table and your voice is heard.”

Working in partnership also holds lessons that apply outside of work—including lessons that might have saved some of those failed marriages.

“If you are going to be a good partner and have a successful relationship, with a partner, kids, friends,” says a facilitator from 2015 national bargaining, “you have to have your partner’s needs in mind as well as your own.”

To learn more about LMP anniversary activities, visit the 20th Anniversary How-to Guide.

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