Postcard from the LERA Conference

I had thought we would be able to catch our breath for a minute here and there and provide some updates during the LERA conference. But it was a whirlwind!

And, it was a good whirlwind. We attend these sorts of conferences from time to time for a couple of primary reasons. We have a unique union, and it's useful to build a web of connections among other unions and organizations that believe in positive, collaborative work. We often find that people who are interested in work systems are interested in SHARE's model. Perhaps most importantly, we learn a lot, and bring that learning back to our own union. 

I can't begin to convey everything about the conference here. This'll be a quick summary, and I'd love to talk with anyone who wants to know more about what we learned. LERA is the Labor and Employment Relations Association, and this was their 65th conference meeting, "The Future of Work," bringing together academics and labor leaders from all over.

We met folks from around the globe, many of them dealing with issues like the ones we face every day, many of them with particularly sharp ideas. We were hit up with interesting questions about the work that we're doing at SHARE: how we're addressing problems in patient experience, how we're working to protect our hospital and our members from outsourcing, and how we try hard to create connections within our union. It's awfully exciting to know that people from around the country have been talking about what SHARE has been doing. 

For me, the most inspiring example of important work being done to help workers elsewhere was described by Cheryl Feldman, with the AFSCME 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund. She delivered a talk entitled "Investing in a Skilled Workforce: A Win-Win for Workers and Employers." She gave a very inspiring description of her work over the past 30+ years, creating job ladders and training opportunities for climbing those ladders for AFSCME members in Philadelphia.

I was fascinated by Adam Seth Litwin's study of employee engagement at the Kaiser Permanente hospitals. It was heartening to hear his research finding scientifically what has been true in our experience: improving the workplace is complex. And, in the end, frontline employees really do hold much of the most important intelligence, and they are the ones who make quality outcomes happen.

There was inspiration to be had, but there was discouragement, too. I learned that nearly half the households in the United States don't have retirement funds. And, enough companies have filed for bankruptcy, (thereby skirting their commitment to pay out their Defined Benefit pensions), that the government agencies who bail out those companies are themselves facing financial problems. Meanwhile, powerful organizations such as ALEC have been successfully coordinating efforts to undermine the economic progress of working people.

We've got a lot of leads to explore. Timothy Vogus' concept of mindfulness organizing resonated with me, and his emphasis on expertise over authority. A neighbor at Brandeis University, Jody Hoffer Gittell, talked about the ways that our relationships with one another affect the "Lean" process improvement method that is currently so popular among management leaders.

We caught a fun Cardinals game, discovered a very nifty Indian import store, and went a little cross-eyed staring up at the impressive St. Louis arch. Now we're excited to talk more about what we've learned, and incorporate the good ideas into our own union.