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Good Meds: Big Healthcare to Fund Union Training

(Photo: Kaiser Permanente likes its unions, it really likes them…)

We now return you to our regularly scheduled Carless. Breakup or not, I remain a staunch Progressive. Frequently, my friends and colleagues in D.C. turn me on to stories that they think I’ll find socially important. This one was enough to help break me out of a momentary funk.

Today, I was invited to attend a national press call announcing the creation of the Kaiser Permanente Healthcare Institute (see press release in PDF format). On the face of it, not exactly a Progressively sexy story–except that the initial $450,000 to create the program is coming from none other than Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest healthcare system, itself, in collaboration with the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.

Yes, friends, you read right. It’s a partnership between the overlords of the HMO world and organized labor, specifically to fund the training of labor organizers in the health-care sector. Kicking off in October 2007, the Institute will be housed at the National Labor College (the former AFL-CIO Meany Center) in Silver Spring, Maryland, and will offer training in healthcare economics, organizing, and collective bargaining, with the overt aim to leverage healthy union organizing to help improve the overall quality and delivery of Kaiser Permanente health services.

Now, having floated in and out of the world of the securely health-insured several times in the past few years, myself, HMOs do not exactly sit at the top of my A list. But this certainly sounds like a win-win partnership to me. And, to Kaiser’s credit, this effort builds upon the earlier success of the Kaiser Permanente Labor Partnership, created in 1997 as the first comprehensive labor-management partnership in the healthcare industry.

On the call, John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, announced a political element of the newly created Kaiser Permanente Healthcare Institute, as well: to invigorate the national debate about how healthcare should be delivered. He had a point. For anyone who’s been paying attention, until now there hasn’t been much debate: the profit-drive of HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry has led to the outright rejection of input from healthcare workers, not to mention patients.

According to Susan Schurman, National Labor College president, the Institute’s curriculum (at press time still being finalized) will help explore the relationship between union and non-organized healthcare workers, and find ways to develop a locus of power among them to help benefit workers and patients alike.

Whether the Institute actually works out as planned, I give props to Kaiser Permanente for having the corporate courage to respect its unionized workers–according to the Labor Day List, an annual report of union-friendly companies published by American Rights at Work, this is a strategy that definitely does not yet enjoy wide currency in business circles (just check out the abysmal labor track record of Verizon).

Of course, this is a funding partnership, so beyond Kaiser Permanente’s own, deep pockets are those of its rank-and-file workers, who replenish the coffers of the KP Coalition of Unions to the tune of about $20 million dollars. Still, it’s a good thing, I think, for all parties to healthy have a stake in the success of the Institute.

After all, you get what you pay for.

Categories: Labor

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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