Kaiser, Union Coalition Donate $450,000 to Labor College for Health Issues Education


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Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest integrated health plan, and the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions May 23 announced that they are jointly donating $450,000 over the next three years to the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., to educate labor leaders and union members on issues affecting the health care industry.

Saying this is a time of "significant challenges" and opportunities in the health care industry, Kaiser Executive Vice President of Health Operations Arthur M. Southam told a teleconference that the grants will be used to create the Kaiser Permanente Healthcare Institute at the college. The institute will "promote understanding of the challenges facing our current health care system and provide labor leaders and other students with the knowledge and skills for driving the effort to make affordable, quality health care available to every American," he said.

John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents some 90,000 Kaiser workers nationwide, said as the country goes through the "transition of figuring out how to provide health care," one topic that is not talked about is the question of how care will be delivered.

"No organization knows more about delivering high-quality health care than Kaiser Permanente, and that knowledge will be a critical element in the education of the National Labor College students for many, many years," he said.

The coalition, which is composed of 29 local unions, was formed to coordinate the participation of the unions in a labor-management partnership with Kaiser that was developed in 1997 (80 DLR A-13, 4/25/97). The partnership agreement gave workers and their unions input into patient care as well as strategic and marketing decisions. Although collective bargaining was not included in the labor-management partnership when it was formed, the parties agreed in 2000 to bargain nationally on issues that were common to all employees and in 2005 negotiated a five-year contract covering employees at more than 400 Kaiser facilities in nine states and the District of Columbia (188 DLR A-1, 9/29/05 ).

Contributions From Joint Trust Fund

Kaiser and the Labor-Management Partnership Trust Fund each will contribute $75,000 annually for the next three years to the college to develop a health care curriculum.

The trust fund, which generates some $20 million a year and is used for administration of the labor-management partnership and partnership activities, is funded by a wage diversion from each of the union members as well as contributions from Kaiser.

Susan J. Schurman, president of the National Labor College, said faculty members are in the process of developing a curriculum, parts of which will be offered on the Internet and parts through classroom instruction, that could lead to a certificate in health care.

One of the courses that will be offered will be devoted to health care bargaining, but will not just look at bargaining tactics, Schurman said.

"Workers today face a complex and fast-paced health care industry, insurance options that frequently change with the market, and a growing need to understand the health care industry when they sit at the bargaining table," she said.

Other courses will focus on health care organizing and issues affecting the health care industry in the global economy, she said.

In addition to the courses, the institute will sponsor an annual conference for health policy leaders to discuss major issues in the industry, Kaiser's Southam said.