Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance of Health Care Unions

Hank Summer 2012

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Longshore Start to Total Health

A longshore worker signing up for a multiphasic exam in 1961. 

In May 1951, Bay Area longshore workers participated in a groundbreaking medical program—the Multiphasic Screening Examination, the first comprehensive health assessment conducted in cooperation with a union.

The trustees of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union–Pacific Maritime Association (ILWU-PMA)Welfare Fund came up with the idea for the tests, thinking it would be a useful corollary to existing medical care by helping detect unsuspected chronic diseases so members could get early and effective treatment. The tests, given in the Local 10 offices, were designed to search out signs of lung cancer, tuberculosis, heart trouble, syphilis, diabetes, anemia, kidney trouble, and sight and hearing defects.

The trustees, together with the Local 10 welfare officer and the ILWU research department, worked out the program with the Permanente Health Plan. ILWU leader Harry Bridges promised results would be confidential and not affect job security, and complete follow-up care was assured as part of health plan coverage.

Recognizing traditional medical services were not well attuned to the health needs of working people, the ILWU newsletter The Dispatch noted “Local 10 is going to put five Permanente doctors through a course of indoctrination on the waterfront, so that they will learn first-hand the conditions under which longshoremen work and will be better able to interpret the tests.”

More than 65 percent of the local ILWU members participated, and 72 percent of those sought and received medical care for their conditions within four months.

Read the History of Total Health blog.

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