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Uniting for Well-Being: The Collective Effort of Unions and School Administrators

Guest author Alicia Loncar is a Kaiser Permanente Labor Liaison and a National Well-Being Lead.

Though unions and administrators may be at odds at times, when it comes to the well-being of school staff, I have found that collaboration is the most effective method to create engaging, sustainable well-being programs. Unions and school administrators, each with their unique capabilities and perspectives, play pivotal roles. Their joint efforts can lead to a nurturing environment that benefits not only the staff but also the students and the community at large.

The Benefits of Collaboration

When I served on a health benefit committee for a school district, I found that when unions and school administrators collaborate, they create a powerful alliance that can tackle staff well-being from all angles. This partnership allows for:

  • Comprehensive Well-Being Programs: Combining the unions’ insights with the administrators’ resources can lead to the development of holistic well-being programs that address physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Increased Engagement: Staff members are more likely to engage in well-being initiatives when they see that their union has an active voice in the creation of the program.
  • Sustainable Change: Collaboration ensures that well-being initiatives are not just temporary fixes but are embedded into the culture of the school, leading to long-lasting improvements.

The Role of Unions

Unions are the voice of the workers. They bring to the table a deep understanding of the workforce’s needs and concerns. With their finger on the pulse of the staff’s morale, unions can advocate for policies and programs that directly impact the well-being of all their members, whether they are in the classroom, cafeteria or on a bus. Unions are trusted communicators and experienced in leadership development and worker involvement – all important attributes for a holistic well-being program.  For these reasons, it is critical that unions play an active role and are allowed to have decision-making authority when creating the program.

The Contribution of School Administrators

School administrators, tasked with the smooth operation of educational institutions, bring structure and resources to the table. They have the authority to implement policies and allocate funds towards well-being programs. Administrators can ensure that well-being is integrated into the school’s strategic plan and that initiatives are aligned with educational goals and objectives. They also have relationships with external partners and can mobilize resources for the program.

Overcoming Obstacles

Despite the clear benefits, I have seen that collaboration between unions and school administrators can face obstacles. Differing priorities, budget constraints, and resistance to change can hinder progress. However, these challenges can be overcome through:

  • Open Communication: Establishing regular dialogues between unions and administrators can help align goals and foster mutual understanding.
  • Shared Decision-Making: Involving both parties in the decision-making process ensures that initiatives are well-rounded and more likely to succeed.
  • Flexibility and Creativity: Being open to innovative solutions can help navigate budgetary limitations and other constraints.
  • Long-term commitment despite negotiations hiccups: To have a long-lasting program, it is critical that both parties commit to reconvene if programs are stalled due to negotiations.

By working together, and with strong advocates on both sides, unions and administrators can ensure that staff well-being is a top priority. Because when staff thrive, students succeed.

To learn more about how labor and management can collaborate around well-being, Kaiser Permanente’s Labor Management Partnership has created a guide to step administrators and unions through the process. 

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