We all know that chronic conditions and serious health issues can be mitigated or prevented through proactive lifestyle choices. But prompting workers to make these choices isn't always easy. To truly help workers manage their health risks, unions and employers must work together. Even though unions and employers have historically had their differences, it's in the best interest of both parties to maintain a healthy workforce.
Here are three tips for collaborating on worker health.
Point Out the Benefits of the Current Health Care Plan
The union and the employer carefully negotiated the health care benefits that workers enjoy, so it's wise for both to remind workers exactly what benefits they have and why they're important. After all, plan information can be complex and the advantages of care options may not be immediately evident.
To keep workers informed, ensure that leaders on both sides of the aisle are able to answer any questions that may arise. Workers may not always choose to go through designated liaisons to find out about their plan options, even if they know who those representatives are and how to reach them. Employers should have a basic understanding of the union's benefit offerings, and vice versa.
To prevent misinformation, ensure employers know where to go if they're faced with a tricky health care question from an employee. For example, you could encourage them to reach out to the union steward.
Above all, it's crucial that the union and employers have and share consistent information, to avoid confusion among workers.
Offer Easy Access to Reputable Health Education Material
Reliable health literature is available from a variety of sources, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, to name just a few. Union leadership should work with management first to determine what sources and articles will be most effective at reaching workers. What speak most directly to workers' needs and provide information in ways that they can easily consume and digest?
From there, decide on the best method of distributing this educational material, whether through virtual health plan portals, direct mailings or at worksite meetings. You might even consider sharing the responsibility of writing up brief introductions to the most important pieces of content, explaining why workers should learn more or how they stand to benefit from investing their time in reading.
Encourage Workplace Safety
Minimizing workplace injuries benefits both the union and the employer, since injuries drive insurance costs up and take employees off the job. And workers who aren't confident in their safety are less likely to feel satisfied with their union and their employer alike. And, of course, injuries can threaten workers' financial futures and quality of life.
But because of its remoteness from the worksite, the union can't always have direct control over workplace safety. While it's important to train members and stewards to relay safety concerns or violations, it also makes sense to proactively work with management to ensure safe working conditions. Know what safety risks are common at different industry worksites and ask for proof that employers have addressed them. Offer to help implement safety measures in any way you can.
At the end of the day, presenting a unified front will inspire workers' confidence. Take advantage of the fact that both unions and employers have an active interest in member health risks.
Phil Britt has worked as a journalist for 40 years, specializing in business issues for the last 30. His work covering the steel industry and its labor issues has been referenced in books, while his articles have appeared on numerous websites, national and international publications. Among current and past clients have been the American Medical Association, Afcom, the Credit Union National Association, Independent Banker, EH Publishing, the Southeast Chicago Development Commission, the Northwest Indiana Times and Insurance & Technology Magazine, just to name a few.