Organized About Labor

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , May 13, 2013
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Wright Lassiter III

Alameda Health System
Oakland, Calif.

On creating a dialogue: Approximately 90% of our employees are represented by unions. When I arrived here it was contentious largely because there wasn't good communication. In the organization at that time, there was a lot of financial strife, and leadership turnover didn't allow leadership to sit down with unions and develop a partnership.

So in our case we have pretty positive relationships with the majority of our labor unions, and they understand that the purpose of the partnership isn't for them to threaten us or force us to do things that aren't economically viable or to be a barrier to creating a culture of excellence. They are really there to partner.

You walk around our organization now and look at the boards for labor unions and you will see things like "Working on a partnership to be an employer of choice" instead of things like "Management is bad" or "Down with Administration!"

On building a relationship: In the past they weren't always sure that some of the stories were as dire as they actually were. We used the phrase, "We are going to open the kimono and you guys can look at what you want to look at." And we are going to include union leadership on committees to fix things.

We had conversations about things that weren't comfortable for either party at times, but I really believe it was in a large part about the sincerity and transparency and open dialogue and not being afraid to say impasse: Let's just stop bickering over this thing because we aren't going to resolve it, so this is how we are going to approach it with a little bit of give-and-take without giving the farm away.

Reprint HLR0513-1

This article appears in the May issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.




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