Unit-Based Teams: Fixing Healthcare, Making Work Better at Kaiser Permanente

Bart Metzger (UMass Memorial Senior Vice President
and Chief HR Officer), Hal Ruddick (Executive Director,
Kaiser Permanente Coalition of Unions), and
Janet Wilder (SHARE Organizer)
Hal Ruddick leads the union side of the biggest and most successful labor-management partnership in health care, and perhaps in all American industries. He’s the Executive Director of the Kaiser Permanente Coalitions of Unions, which represents 28 local unions and 115,000 union member employees at Kaiser Permanente. (SHARE has sister AFSCME union locals that represent employees at Kaiser Permanente and are part of the coalition.)
Hal Ruddick spoke at the monthly SHARE UMass Memorial Labor Management Partnership Council meeting, so we could learn from their experience.
To Ruddick, this is about fixing healthcare in America. The goal is high quality, affordable care for all, and the Kaiser unit-based teams (UBTs) and labor management partnership are working to get there.
Ruddick added that unions face many challenges right now, and that this is one vision for strengthening unions. Continuous improvement in healthcare through partnership is the foundation for good high quality union jobs.  He says that people choose to work in healthcare to make a difference, but sometimes the experience of working in healthcare drives the passion out of people. “Your work in creating UBTs is key to sustaining a sense of meaning in these jobs.”
One LMPC member asked about the Kaiser Permanente experience with the changing roles of managers and employees with UBTs. Do managers may feel they are being asked to give up control? Hal Ruddick explained that teams have a lot of tools to try to build consensus, but in the end of the day, managers can still manage and labor can still respond. Managers begin to realize that working together with their staff they can find solutions that help reach the managers’ goals. Ruddick says it’s a change for labor too: If you are part of designing a solution, then you own the solution and have to take some responsibility for it.