Why Total Health Is a Union Issue
Union leader Walter Allen puts workplace wellness in a new light
Walter Allen is executive director and chief financial officer of OPEIU Local 30, which represents 4,000 Kaiser Permanente employees (with clerical, call center, technical, service, administrative and other jobs) in Southern California. Allen addressed a KP HealthWorks and Healthy Workforce symposium in late 2014; afterward, he shared more of his thoughts. Here are highlights.
Q. Why have the leaders of Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions been so engaged with their union members on total health?
A. Healthy workforce is a union issue. It is always in our interest to provide the best we can for our [union] members. This often means good benefits, good wages, protection when needed and now, finally, good health as well. This must be high on the list of things we will take responsibility for as union leaders.
Q. The Total Health Incentive Program, created by the 2012 National Agreement and extended for 2015, takes an innovative approach to workforce health. How does this help Kaiser Permanente workers?
A. We have worked hard to provide benefits like health care and pensions for our [union] members over the decades. But where was the focus on supporting their health and giving them a better chance to live to enjoy those hard-earned benefits? So our strategy is to engage everyone, all the time, in everything.
Healthy employees create a more efficient workplace and save the company money, which then can be invested in infrastructure, technology and, yes, great benefits and wages.
Q. Why is a joint total health effort so important?
A. It’s simple: Healthier workers will deliver better health care to Kaiser Permanente members and set the example for those members and the communities we serve. At KP, keeping members healthy rather than treating them for diseases that can be avoided is good for the members and good for the company.
That is part of our mission, and we all have a stake in it. But we all can use support in the workplace to look after ourselves as well as our patients. Our joint effort also means we can have greater impact in the community.