On a holiday that honors working people in this country, it is worth looking at our workplace relationships and how they can help — or hinder — the success of our organizations and communities.

Kaiser Permanente has a rich labor history. The industrialist Henry J. Kaiser took an open stance toward unions, and the onsite clinics he provided for his workers at construction sites and shipyards in the 1930s and ’40s grew to become today’s Kaiser Permanente. We would not exist today without unions’ early support for our health plan. As in any relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs. But for nearly 20 years, Kaiser Permanente and 28 local unions have pursued a unique, high-road partnership that has benefited the organization, 114,000 union-represented workers and more than 10.6 million Kaiser Permanente members and patients.


Dennis DabneyDennis Dabney

Our Labor Management Partnership — the largest such partnership in the country — gives workers a voice in workplace decisions. It provides problem-solving and performance-improvement techniques that have helped frontline teams streamline work processes, reduce waste and improve performance — nearly 10,000 team-led improvement projects this year alone. And it has provided a level of job security unheard of in most organizations in the country.

In short, we have shown that partnership delivers measurable results. We have seen a link between team engagement and issues that matter to member-patients, such as fewer hospital falls and improved hospital satisfaction. When employees are engaged through their work teams, injuries and lost work days decrease.

By providing a structured way to address concerns, we are changing workplace culture and relationships — and that is what it takes to sustain results.

We recently saw confirmation for our workplace strategy at Partnership Day —  an event in Chicago that brought together more than 200 business, union and public-sector leaders under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. We contrasted the results of traditional labor strategies with the more collaborative approaches found at Kaiser Permanente, UAW-Ford and other workplaces in our economy, and we agreed: Partnership works better.

It’s not always easy. Management and labor don’t agree on everything. That’s not the goal. But we have agreed to respect one another, show good will and talk through differences, and to resist the all-too-common impulse to assume the worst and assume a fighting stance when things go wrong. At a time in our society when civility, openness and understanding are in short supply, let’s start by strengthening those values in our workplaces. We have learned from experience that when people seek to understand others’ points of view — especially in times of difficult change — everyone is better off.

Happy Labor Day.