Teaming up with Teamsters

Thursday, February 28, 2002

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. - Patient Advocate Home Care joined the Teamsters last month and became possibly the first unionized HME in the country, says owner Dan Buikema.

Buikema, not his employees, struck the deal with the teamsters. He did so to empower and reward his workers with an improved, more affordable benefits package, and to gain a competitive advantage when going after managed care contracts in heavily unionized, blue-collar northwest Indiana.

"Being a small company without huge geographic coverage, the insurance companies are hesitant to contract with us," said Buikema. "The union affiliates will help us by asking strongly that we get consideration because we are the only union DME provider. That allows us a playing field that is a little more level."

Buikema plans to go "hall by hall, union by union" identifying insurance companies that work with the brotherhood and "hopefully secure contracts that otherwise we would never attain."

Employees pay the Teamsters $28 a month in union dues, which covers their health insurance contributions. Last year, for similar premium insurance coverage, single employees paid $100 a month, and employees with families paid just under $200. Buikema's $1 million, three-year-old company kicks in about $720 a month for insurance and $40 toward pension per employee.

Because of its large membership, the Teamsters can offer excellent health coverage for less money, Buikema said.

Buikema decided go to with the Teamsters because the organization traditionally covers drivers. During a collective bargaining agreement that stretched two to three months, Buikema and the Teamsters hammered out pay scales, job descriptions, annual pay increases, paid holidays, etc.

Buikema isn't worried that at some point employees might go on strike, or that some tough talking Jimmy-Hoffa type might show up on his doorstep with an offer he can't refuse.

"The perception out there that union and management tug the rope in opposite directions isn't true," he said. "If we don't' succeed, they have nothing to gain. And the only way there would be any potential for a strike would be if we didn't live up to our end of the contract, and I would not have signed it if we didn't fully intend to live up to it." HME