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Reprinted with permission from Daily Labor Report, No. 171, pp. C-2 et al. (September 4, 1997).
Copyright 1997 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C. (800-372-1033)

Labor-Management Cooperation

Kaiser, Unions Begin Multi-Year Plan To Implement Partnership Agreement

Hailed as one of the most ambitious efforts ever at labor-management cooperation when it was announced earlier this year, the partnership agreement between Kaiser-Permanente and the AFL-CIO was described Sept. 3 as an ''evolving initiative.''

''We're still at the starting line; it will take extreme commitment to see it to the finish line,'' said Richard Barnaby, Kaiser-Permanente president and chief operating officer, in discussing the new partnership arrangement at a symposium in Washington, D.C., organized by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to mark the agency's 50th anniversary.

Barnaby, one of the chief architects of the partnership, appeared on a symposium panel with Peter diCicco, president of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department, who negotiated the agreement for the participating member unions. Also on the panel were Thomas J. Schneider and John R. Stepp of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting group, Restructuring Associates, which worked with Kaiser and the AFL-CIO in hammering out the agreement and now is involved in the implementation stage.

The partnership, announced last spring with much fanfare, involves 14 unions representing some 65,000 Kaiser employees. It affects workers covered by 46 separate union contracts at hospitals and medical facilities around the country. Kaiser-Permanente is the country's largest nonprofit health maintenance organization with annual revenues of $13 billion (80 DLR A-13, 4/25/97).

The panel outlined the multi-pronged strategy for implementing the partnership, which began in June when members of the participating unions approved the agreement by a 87 percent vote, and will take until December 1999 before all the components are in place. Barnaby said he did not expect to see the partnership fully institutionalized for at least five years but he and diCicco both expressed their commitment to working together.

Senior Joint Committee in Place. At this first stage a joint senior partnership committee comprised of 11 representatives from labor and nine from Kaiser has been formed. The intent is to implement the agreement from the top down, putting in place a partnership structure at every level of the workplace.

''We're very much in a transition period,'' said diCicco, acknowledging the challenge of trying to meld together on the same team unions ranging from the most militant to those who are more accustomed to taking a cooperative approach with management.

He noted that the partnership is not intended to replace the collective bargaining process. Nor as yet has it ameliorated the usual tensions in that process. Currently, there is a strike under way by one of the participating unions against Kaiser facilities in Washington and Oregon (170 DLR A-3, 9/3/97).

Labor, Management's Shared Purpose. Barnaby outlined the shared purpose of the partnership between the HMO and its unions. This is to:

  • improve the quality of care delivered to Kaiser members
  • produce market-leading competitive performance
  • make Kaiser-Permanente a better place to work
  • provide maximum possible employment and job security for employees
  • expand the HMO's membership
  • involve employees and their unions in this process

Kaiser hopes to gain from the partnership a more collaborative relationship as it works to improve its quality of care, Barnaby said. It also hopes to strengthen its influence in the health care industry and in the legislative process affecting the industry. It sees the partnership as a way of expanding into new markets.

For labor, the partnership offers a place at the decision-making table, a commitment of neutrality from the HMO as unions work to increase their membership, and an opportunity to provide more jobs for members, diCicco said. The agreement explicitly states that ''there will be no loss of employment to any employee because of partnership programs at the work site.'' This means that no employee is going to lose his or her job for suggesting productivity improvements that might lead to the elimination of their position, diCicco said.

''I hope we're creating a model for the industry,'' he said.

By Elizabeth Walpole-Hofmeiste

Reprinted with permission from Daily Labor Report, No. 171, pp. C-2 et al. (September 4, 1997). Copyright 1997 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C. (800-372-1033)




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