On June 6, the Labor Management Project (LMP) celebrated its 20th anniversary. The following is part two of a series on how we got started and what we’ve accomplished together over the years. In the first part of this series, we spoke with Samantha Morales, exploring the context and development of the LMP in the mid- to late-1990s. (See part one here.) This month, we sat down with Susan Wasstrom, LMP co-director from 2004 to 2011 and director from 2014 to 2016, to learn more about the LMP’s history and development.
In its early years, much of the LMP’s work focused on:
- Improving labor relations (including grievance reduction),
- Creating labor management committees, and
- Educating and informing labor and management about participatory work and approaches, as well as healthcare and industry trends
“When I first came to the LMP around 2002, the work was about creating space for a conversation between union and management that didn’t devolve into heated exchanges,” said Wasstrom. “Given the long and contentious history between 1199 and employers, the early work needed to focus on how to have constructive discussions and problem-solving around contractual issues.” The LMP was also committed to learning, together with its union and management partners, ways to deepen partnerships through exchanges, conferences, and ongoing project work.
An exchange with Ireland
The International Action Research Project (IARP) was established in 2003 by a consortium of key labor and management leaders from 1199SEIU and the League of Voluntary Hospitals in New York and UNISON (an Irish union) and The Royal Hospital in Northern Ireland. The brainchild of Debby King, the founder of the 1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds, the project’s aim was to identify and share best practices in labor-management partnerships, and to develop ways of measuring outcomes. These union and management partners from Northern Ireland had a long history of labor-management collaboration.
The partnership involved multiple across-ocean exchanges between 2002 and 2005 that included site visits, meetings, and conferences aimed at sharing partnership stories, developing leadership, and openly discussing challenges.
“This exchange created a great deal of energy and focus on the labor-management work we were undertaking in New York,” said Wasstrom. With a work plan, deliverables, and deadlines, there was added motivation and support to achieve outcomes. “It drove a sense of urgency that is not naturally built into partnership,” she added. The 2007 IARP conference in Belfast marked the conclusion of the project by sharing learning from completed and ongoing projects. The IARP ultimately served as an important catalyst for refining labor-management approaches in New York and Ireland.
By 2008, the work of the LMP had significantly expanded. Staffing grew from five to sixteen. The project work focused on operational and quality improvements in hospitals and nursing homes, for instance care delivery, call bell response time, patient experience, and culture change – areas that workers can significantly affect. Wasstrom described how during this time there was a move toward enhancing worker engagement – giving workers a voice and tools to work with management to improve operations.
The LMP also initiated city-wide initiatives that impacted worker participation, quality of care, and patient safety.
The city-wide Infection Prevention Campaign’s goal was to motivate and mobilize healthcare workers to improve hand hygiene and the uptake of worker flu vaccinations. Beginning in 2008, the LMP trained front-line workers to be coaches – educating and encouraging peers, managers, and physicians regarding hand washing best practices and flu vaccines.
The Quality Care Community has been bringing together union and management in long term care since 2003 to address challenges and innovations impacting care and workforce issues. Annual conferences and other exchanges enable workers and managers to learn from one another and discuss best practices.
Health Care Reform conferences held in 2012 and 2015 brought stakeholders from across metro New York together to learn about how reforms such as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were impacting hospital finances, patient care, and the overall healthcare landscape.
Since its inception, we estimate that the LMP has touched tens of thousands of 1199SEIU members as well as employers, managers, and union staff with capacity building, conferences, coaching, and organizational development support. Today’s 33 LMP staff continue to support labor and management stakeholders in hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory care centers, and community-based organizations. The LMP builds leadership capacity at all levels, and shares tools and strategies for effective collaboration to build a vibrant future for healthcare workers, patients, and organizations.
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