Thursday, June 13, 2013

Clinical Engineering: Contract Them Out?

UMass Memorial management is considering contracting out Biomed Engineering (also known as Clinical Engineering) to save the hospital money. If the hospital decides to accept the outsourcing bid, an outside company would take over the maintenance of UMass Memorial Healthcare machines and devices.

The SHARE Biomed Technicians are quite concerned, as you can imagine. If their work is contracted out, some of them might be offered jobs by the outside company and continue to work here at UMass Memorial, but that would be up to the new company. We don't know what the wages or benefits might be. We have been told that the outside vendor would have fewer technicians permanently located on site, and use floats as needed. A number of the Biomed Techs are within a few years of retirement, and are concerned that the new company might not want to hire them. 

The SHARE Biomed Technicians are also quite worried about the quality of work that a third party company would deliver at UMass Memorial. Some of them have worked for third party companies before, and know that the level of commitment to the patients, to the hospital, and to the community is just not the same. Many of them have chosen to work at UMass Memorial because Clinical Engineering here is an in-house operation where they can do their best quality work. Others have seen Clinical Engineering departments elsewhere be contracted out, only to be brought back in-house within a few years because the hospitals’ control over quality was lower and the costs ended up being higher with the third party vendor. 

Trying to Keep the Jobs In-House

SHARE proposed to UMass Memorial that we explore alternatives together before deciding whether to contract out Clinical Engineering. SHARE believes that front-line employees can be deeply involved in solving problems: They are experienced and knowledgeable about the work, and committed to quality patient care and to their hospitals. We believe that if SHARE members and Clinical Engineering managers engage in process improvement together – analyzing the data and the contracts, studying the work flow in a deliberate and thorough way – we may be able to find enough savings to keep the work in-house.

UMass Memorial agreed to give the Biomed Technicians and SHARE the time and the data needed to work on an alternative that saves the hospital money while continuing to provide high quality services. Five SHARE Biomed Techs and several SHARE organizers are meeting with managers from Clinical Engineering and Human Resources to look at how to make their work more efficient and how to use that time to do work that saves the hospital money. Soon the SHARE team will present their proposal. Stay tuned.

A New Direction for the Future

Working together to prevent outsourcing is a positive new challenge for SHARE and UMass Memorial. If we can figure out how to do this work together, many more SHARE employees can have a say about solving problems in their work areas, and UMass Memorial will be better able to deal with all the changes we face in healthcare today and tomorrow.

Please Take Our Survey

The Biomed Techs and SHARE organizers would like to hear from anyone at UMass Memorial who has thoughts – ideas or concerns –  about this. We welcome all ideas, and would very much like to involve end-users in the conversation. Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey at:

New Contract Language: Outsourcing, Closing, or Selling Parts of UMass Memorial

In the last contract negotiations, we added a section about contracting out and selling off parts of UMass Memorial. With the recent sale of Home Health and the Outreach part of Anatomic Pathology, it seemed really important to come to an understanding about this trend. Here's what the contract now says:

SHARE and UMass Memorial agree that we will do everything possible to avoid layoffs from outsourcing, closing, contracting out or selling parts of UMass Memorial. 
When UMass Memorial considers outsourcing, closing, or selling a part of the hospital that would result in job loss or changes for SHARE members, SHARE will be notified as early in the decision-making process as is reasonable under the circumstances. The employer and the union will meet to determine if it can be avoided. Alternative proposals from SHARE for restructuring the work, or other ways to resolve the problem, will be given serious consideration.  
If, after discussion, UMass Memorial concludes that it is still necessary to outsource, close, or sell part of the hospital, SHARE members will become work-security candidates, with access to the full work security program (see “Layoffs and Work Security”).  
In the event that a SHARE member’s position is reopened within the UMass Memorial system after contracting out, closing, or sale, the SHARE member will retain the right to recall to an open position in their old department for which they are qualified, with full bridging of service for the time he or she was away up to six years. 
SHARE and UMass Memorial will explore providing additional options within the work security program to help place SHARE members when a group is laid off in a job title that is difficult to place within UMass Memorial Medical Center. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Coming Soon: 401K Education for SHARE Members

As most of you know, SHARE agreed to pension changes in our most recent contract negotiations with UMass Memorial. One change is that the employer match for 401(k) contributions will double when the changes go into effect in 2017. The 401(k) will be important for future retirees, especially young SHARE members who will be in the new plan most of their careers.

Our pension survey last spring showed that half of SHARE members don't currently contribute to retirement savings through a 401(k) at UMass Memorial. Many said that they can't afford to take money out of their checks. Others said that more information about how the 401K works would help them to sign up for it. That's why SHARE is working with Human Resources to plan a series of Information Meetings for SHARE members about how the 401(k) works. We'll answer questions like:

  • Do I need to put money into a 401(k)?
  • How much money will UMass Memorial put into my account?
  • How do I figure out how much money I should have taken out, and how much difference will I see in my check?
  • What paperwork do I need to fill out? How do I do it?

We're aiming for September for the Information Meetings. Anyone who decides to open a 401(k) account start to contribute in October when the next raise is scheduled. If you'd like to get involved in planning the meetings, or to request one in your area, give the SHARE office a call (508-929-4020).

Pension Changes Start 2017

SHARE members have a defined benefit pension, which is a very good thing for us, because it provides a guaranteed monthly income in retirement. The 401(k) savings plan is in addition to the defined benefit pension and Social Security.

In contract negotiations, we agreed on future changes to both the defined benefit pension, and the 401(k). No changes will happen before 2017. In 2017, UMass Memorial will double their matching contribution to the 401(k), and change the formula for calculating the pension for 2017 and laterWhen the changes to the pension come, they will be gradual. SHARE members will continue adding to their pensions in 2017 and after, but at a slower rate. Everything that you have accrued in your pension is protected, and can't be taken away. (So, if you're debating whether to retire in, say, 2016 or 2017, the pension change shouldn't be a factor.) The full details of the pension agreement between SHARE and UMass Memorial are described beginning on page 3 of the most recent contract.

Stay tuned for details about the 401(k) Information Meetings.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Postcard from the LERA Conference

I had thought we would be able to catch our breath for a minute here and there and provide some updates during the LERA conference. But it was a whirlwind!

And, it was a good whirlwind. We attend these sorts of conferences from time to time for a couple of primary reasons. We have a unique union, and it's useful to build a web of connections among other unions and organizations that believe in positive, collaborative work. We often find that people who are interested in work systems are interested in SHARE's model. Perhaps most importantly, we learn a lot, and bring that learning back to our own union. 

I can't begin to convey everything about the conference here. This'll be a quick summary, and I'd love to talk with anyone who wants to know more about what we learned. LERA is the Labor and Employment Relations Association, and this was their 65th conference meeting, "The Future of Work," bringing together academics and labor leaders from all over.

We met folks from around the globe, many of them dealing with issues like the ones we face every day, many of them with particularly sharp ideas. We were hit up with interesting questions about the work that we're doing at SHARE: how we're addressing problems in patient experience, how we're working to protect our hospital and our members from outsourcing, and how we try hard to create connections within our union. It's awfully exciting to know that people from around the country have been talking about what SHARE has been doing. 

For me, the most inspiring example of important work being done to help workers elsewhere was described by Cheryl Feldman, with the AFSCME 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund. She delivered a talk entitled "Investing in a Skilled Workforce: A Win-Win for Workers and Employers." She gave a very inspiring description of her work over the past 30+ years, creating job ladders and training opportunities for climbing those ladders for AFSCME members in Philadelphia.

I was fascinated by Adam Seth Litwin's study of employee engagement at the Kaiser Permanente hospitals. It was heartening to hear his research finding scientifically what has been true in our experience: improving the workplace is complex. And, in the end, frontline employees really do hold much of the most important intelligence, and they are the ones who make quality outcomes happen.

There was inspiration to be had, but there was discouragement, too. I learned that nearly half the households in the United States don't have retirement funds. And, enough companies have filed for bankruptcy, (thereby skirting their commitment to pay out their Defined Benefit pensions), that the government agencies who bail out those companies are themselves facing financial problems. Meanwhile, powerful organizations such as ALEC have been successfully coordinating efforts to undermine the economic progress of working people.

We've got a lot of leads to explore. Timothy Vogus' concept of mindfulness organizing resonated with me, and his emphasis on expertise over authority. A neighbor at Brandeis University, Jody Hoffer Gittell, talked about the ways that our relationships with one another affect the "Lean" process improvement method that is currently so popular among management leaders.

We caught a fun Cardinals game, discovered a very nifty Indian import store, and went a little cross-eyed staring up at the impressive St. Louis arch. Now we're excited to talk more about what we've learned, and incorporate the good ideas into our own union.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wish you were here: greetings from St. Louis!

Greetings from the conference of the Labor and Employment Relations Association! I am here with fellow SHARE organizer Janet Wilder, and a few hundred labor and business leaders from around the world, not to mention quite a few academics. There is an impressive looking roster of panels to attend. First up, this one: "Addressing Healthcare Challenges on the Frontlines: Partnership, Involvement, Voice and Mindful Organizing." Hope to learn a bunch. More to come…