In brief, the experience in our communities and in our health care system can be described as a new era of tragedy, of fear, of financial loss, and a very unpredictable future.
As communities and businesses are planning their reopening, speaking on CNN recently the Dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations , Alexander Colvin reminded us, ” Reopening places of employment will require substantial planning. The best means to do this is through two-way dialogue with employees”.
This is an essential way of thinking because we know that employees possess the skill and experience from their knowledge base of daily work.
Labor-Management Partnerships (LMP) exist in many industries, including healthcare. LMPS are based on the principle of two-way problem-solving. Some practices and policies included here may be useful as a partial guide for how employee-employer dialogue can enhance the future of work in the time of the pandemic.
• Institutionalized education and training in frontline-based conflict resolution
• Labor-Management coronavirus “checklist”
• The creation of “health and safety champions”…every unit/department has a trained employee who will provide support for the attainment and sustainability of safe work practices
• Provision of “additional” benefits” during the pandemic, including
o Childcare stipends
o Hotel/RV space for employees who have been exposed to the virus and do not want to risk bringing the virus home
o Direct financial assistance to lower wage health care workers
o Mental health counseling
o Provision of additional personal leave time with no impact on seniority
o Expanded EAP’s
o Paid leave for telecommuting work
o Providing hazard pay for frontline nursing home workers
o Inclusion of EVS workers in traditionally nurse-centric collaborative meetings to address the team nature of health and safety
o Extend sick leave provisions for those who contract COVID-19 in the workplace
o Joint work to leverage more PPE from a diminished supply chain
o Limit lay-offs and negotiate furloughs whereby employees maintain employment status and benefits during periods of sustained periods of low census due to the mandated cancellation of all elective surgery and elective diagnostic procedures
Finally, all reporting indicates that most U.S. healthcare facilities are suffering about 40% financial loss during this period of the pandemic. (Harrisburg Patriot News, Kaiser Health Network). The “return to normal” for most facilities will be a long and risky one. How labor and management work through this challenge will in many cases determine success.
Some examples of on-going LMP work:
- Joint lobbying at the state and federal level to correct the current funding mechanism of $100 billion funding earmarked for hospitals is critical. As of now, most of that funding will not go to hospitals which most need it!
- Joint labor-management lobbying in Massachusetts to support nursing homes and nursing home workers produced $130 million additional money to pay for PPE, across the board wage increases, dedicated COVID-19 wings or whole facilities, infection control auditing, and deployment of nurses and additional staff as well as the National Guard
• Working toward a concept of “career security” also makes sense. How do facilities keep staff employed as they re-establish their services? Re-deployment, cross-training, new training, and joint decision-making on hours, schedules, and assignments could go a long way to positive outcomes for staff of hospitals in this time of uncertainty.