The UAW strike and lessons for healthcare leaders

Early fall labor confrontations are heating up, not least in the United Auto Workers strike called last week. Healthcare executives might do well to heed some lessons to make such disruption in their industry less likely, experts say.

Communication and transparency are key: While Paul Keckley in his weekly The Keckley Report said Sept. 18 that the genesis of the auto worker strike is more about job insecurity than wages per se, poor communication and transparency around executive compensation, for example, is a definite factor in such labor confrontations.

"Forthrightness about issues like access, prices, executive compensation, affordability and more is essential to trustworthiness," he said.

Non-executive workers often see a disconnect between how their pay is not linked to the performance of a company but it is for the C-suite, according to a Sept. 18 article in Fortune.

"Clearly, CEOs have no problem with large compensation packages when addressing their own compensation," said Bret Bero, assistant professor of practice at Wellesley, Mass.-based Babson College's management division. "They justify it by pointing to the shareholder value created under their watch. Employees wonder why they can’t get the same consideration when their pay is considered."

While the situation is not exactly comparing apples with apples because of the role of nonprofits in healthcare, the two industries face similar conundrums regarding their workers, according to The Keckley Report.

"Auto and healthcare workers want job security and higher pay, believing their company executives and boards put corporate profit above their interests and all else," Mr. Keckley said.

Employees generally are being more vocal in what they are willing to tolerate and increasingly want to have a seat at the table, according to the Fortune report. Such inclusion and proper communication is even more valued than just higher wages.

"Employees are delineating their priorities and the tradeoffs they are willing, or unwilling, to make, and top management should listen carefully," said Jennifer Tosti-Kharas, PhD, professor of organizational behavior at Babson.

With several thousand Kaiser Permanente workers, among others, looking to walk off the job soon, such warnings and recommendations are timely for healthcare executives.

"Stay tuned to the UAW strike and consider fresh approaches to labor issues," Mr. Keckley wrote. "It's not a matter of if, but when."

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