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Get Ready for Big Labor's Big Push

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 26, 2009

Symptoms of a dysfunctional working environment include high employee turnover and productivity and quality slides. Trivisonno recommends conducting vulnerability assessments. "It's important to use diagnostic tools like surveys, focus groups, and ongoing assessments to keep your finger on the pulse, and then do something with the results," he says. "The worst thing you can do is ask a question and then not doing anything with the answer. Then you're further behind than when you started."

Hospital executives must also be able to explain to employees why they should vote against a union. "You can clearly state that you respect unions and employees right to organize but your preference is to deal directly with employees," Trivisonno says.

Hospital executives must also have an action plan in place before any attempt to organize workers is underway. Trivisonno says that's because the final negotiated version of EFCA that passes Congress will probably include an expedited election process. Currently, employers have about six weeks to prepare for a union vote after a petition is filed. EFCA may reduce that to five days. "They can't wait. Employers should already state what their position is on labor unions to their employees," Trivisonno says. "You will have a few days to communicate to everyone in your organization you position on why they should or should not vote for a union. That is an incredible departure from what we have today. That is why executives need to reexamine their communications systems. Where do people get their information, and how is it delivered?"

Despite your best efforts, if employees vote to organize, deal with it. You lost. Get over it. Trivisonno says it's important for employers to recognize the vote and pledge that they will respect that right and bargain in good faith.

Here's my take: Trivisonno makes a lot of sense. The fact is, working Americans are righteously ticked off. Despite what is written about sub-prime loans and people living beyond their means, the vast majority of American workers plays by the rules, and acts responsibly. Nevertheless, they're losing their jobs and seeing their benefits cut through no fault of their own while reading about the people who created this mess giving themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses for failure.

Broadly speaking, if there is a huge resurgence of organized labor, management has nobody to blame but itself. It's not the healthcare industry's fault that the economy is in the tank, but it is going to absorb the aftershocks. It won't be the first time that healthcare cleans someone else's mess.


John Commins is the human resources and community and rural hospitals editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at jcommins@healthleadersmedia.com.
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