Letting members in on the benefits decision-making process poses a unique challenge for trustees. The board must be responsive to members while also taking final responsibility for all decisions made, even when membership may disagree. But it's worth making the effort to increase transparency in health care decisions. The resulting member engagement can keep members invested in their health benefits and keep the union strong.
Here's how to use transparency to cultivate trust and meaningful relationships with members.
Building a Benefit Plan Committee
While board membership is based on important election processes, creating a specialty benefits plan committee can help workers understand the work that goes into choosing plan options and give them a platform to express their point of view. Stewards can facilitate these groups, relaying information between the board and workers. At the same time, by attending meetings themselves, trustees can connect more closely with their members, personalize the board's image and make better-informed plan decisions on behalf of workers.
It's important to communicate to workers exactly how they can then have a say. Committee meetings should be structured with clear objectives and according to a relevant timeline — a contract renewal, for instance — in order to provide a sense of progress for those involved. Stewards or other leaders should be able to show participants how their voices are being heard by the board, as well as explain board decisions that go against workers' wishes.
Remember that the board can take advantage of committee participation to mobilize active — or activist — members around important issues beyond health benefits. The board can use this occasion to implement a strategic outreach plan alerting workers to other concerns or initiatives that the union needs strong engagement to approach. Ideally, workers should leave the committee feeling optimistic about the union and ready to continue participating however they can.
Limits on Letting Members In
Naturally, there are limitations — both structural and practical — to building transparency in health care decision-making processes. While engaging members accomplishes some of the most important goals of the union, it's also important that the board carry out its duties and responsibilities in a timely manner. Opening up the floor runs the risk of inviting discord that can slow down the process or even undermine future collective bargaining.
Likewise, make sure that members don't overestimate the committee's role in the overall process. The factors playing into plan decisions are complex, which means that developing informed opinions takes a high level of specialized knowledge — and that no result is going to please everyone equally.
Additionally, insurance and other trust documents or information may be restricted, limiting what can be shared with people outside the board, so it's important to review any relevant rules before embarking on creating a benefit plan committee.
At the end of the day, increasing transparency around the work that goes into choosing a benefits plan are manifold, from increasing member engagement and showing the union's value to generating workers' investment in their health. Achieving all this takes a careful balance, so work with your stewards to plan the best approach for your members.
Tracey Lewis, journalist and author, focuses primarily on B2B health care, financial services and other internal corporate communications. Author of a best-selling, pop-culture book published by Random House Books, and a trained oral historian, Tracey also enjoys delving into music, arts and film content. Skilled in SEO optimization and digital storytelling, she knows how to collaborate with communications, policy, research, legal and designer teams to create and execute cohesive content strategies.