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Who's Really Benefiting from Workplace "Wellness" Programs?

Wellness programs use both incentives and penalties to keep health insurance costs down--so workers may find themselves paying extra if they don't meet the requirements.

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Borsos pointed to workplace stress as a key health factor sidestepped by wellness programs. He criticized SEIU-UHW “for not challenging Kaiser for inadequate staffing levels, over which management has direct control.

“Instead, SEIU is challenging their own members on health issues over which they may not have any control. How about Kaiser changing its behavior?”

Borsos also objects to the Kaiser plan because employees who decline to participate “will be subject to enormous pressure from co-workers whose bonuses are tied to everyone’s participation.”

Many details of the Kaiser program are yet to be negotiated, and Borsos says SEIU-UHW is not releasing information because “they don’t want to tell the membership how onerous these stipulations will be, before the election.”

SEIU-UHW, the largest union at Kaiser, disagrees 180 degrees. “It’s shameful that NUHW would use lies and deceptions to score political points instead of advocating for the health of workers and encouraging them to participate,” said spokesperson Steve Trossman.


SEIU-UHW applauded the Kaiser wellness program because it “defines new roles for union members as ‘health care leaders’ to help their co-workers achieve that goal” of becoming more healthy.

Trossman explained that the health care leaders will “develop programs to help their co-workers take on chronic illness and live healthier lifestyles.”

“Not so fast,” says nurse Faith Simon, an organizer of a July conference sponsored by NUHW and the California Nurses Association that explored alternatives to worksite-based wellness programs.

“It’s not the job of the boss, their appointees, or fellow employees to evaluate or to make judgments and recommendations about health,” Simon said. She is a family nurse practitioner and primary care provider in a rural California town. “That’s my job and the job of other health care providers voluntarily selected by workers.”

Former Communications Workers veteran negotiator Steve Early said he’d seen manufacturing employers try to induce smokers to quit so the company could save on its medical costs, “but management never wanted to address job-related hazards like chemical exposure or excessive noise levels that have an equal or greater impact on workers’ health.” When employers push wellness programs, Early said, unions should counter with proposals to cut forced overtime and decrease workload.


Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at

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