Optimas 2001-Partnership: Labor and Management Build a Prescription for Health

By Hutchins, Jennifer | Workforce, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Optimas 2001-Partnership: Labor and Management Build a Prescription for Health


Hutchins, Jennifer, Workforce


DaimlerChrysler and the United Auto Workers have a wellness program that pays for itself.

In an agreeable alliance between labor, management, and suppliers, the DaimlerChrysler/UAW National Wellness Program is soothing traditional tensions between unions and employers. "It's truly a partnership," says Teresa Bartlett, senior manager of disability and medical healthcare programs for DaimlerChrysler Corporation. "We've never encountered disagreement at all."

The 15-year-old program is a negotiated benefit between DaimlerChrysler and the autoworkers' union, UAW. DaimlerChrysler and the union work with third-party providers to make health-promotion and prevention initiatives available to more than 90,000 employees at 35 major locations nationwide. The availability of programs and number of on-site coordinators depend on the site's employee population and size. The extensive program has endured Chrysler's 1998 merger with Daimler-Benz and other major organizational and industry changes. The corporation faces yet another challenging era following the announcement that it will chop 26,000 Chrysler jobs, including several thousand in the United States. Through it all, wellness continues to be a part of life at DaimlerChrysler.

"It's been a very good partnership and has been beneficial for our [union] members as well as DaimlerChrysler," says Kenneth Young, coordinator of the DaimlerChrysler/UAW benefits program. "People in the plants are appreciative of the programs they put on." Young has represented union interests in the program since its inception and was instrumental in its development. He says the program not only is helpful in maintaining employee health, but also has on occasion targeted and addressed a serious health risk in an employee.

At the core of the collaboration is the Wellness Advisory Council. The council meets quarterly, and is usually composed of six representatives who gather at DaimlerChrysler's headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan. "We are truly a team," says Bartlett. "All of the partners come together and report what's going on, how many people participated, what types of road blocks were faced, and so on. We strategize about where we should target the programs."

All U.S. locations with at least 500 employees have contracts with on-site health and fitness business partners. These coordinators spend their days in offices and warehouses and on factory floors encouraging employees to take part in health activities and gauging health concerns. The StayWell Company manages programs at 26 DaimlerChrysler locations and has 60 onsite coordinators working full-time.

The American Institute of Preventive Medicine manages the wellness program at seven sites. "We believe in empowering employees to make better health-care decisions," says Don R. Powell of AIPM. "We feel that people need to learn skills, which goes along with education. It's also important to motivate people, whether through incentives, positive reinforcement, or support groups."

The DaimlerChrysler/UAW National Wellness program won the 2000 C. Everett Koop National Health Award and has also won 29 gold-medal awards from the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA).

The program's success is measured through health-risk assessments, employee satisfaction surveys, and outside research. Evaluation results make a strong case to all members of the team-labor, management, and suppliers. "You've got research that validates that the program does a lot of things," says Joan Bassing, national program director for StayWell Health Management. "It helps people stay healthy and come to their jobs day in and day out."

The program covers a large, geographically spread-out population. It is imperative for site coordinators to maintain strong ties with one another and with headquarters. "One thing that's a challenge for the field sites is communication," says Ed Gonzalez, program manager for StayWell. …

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