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Put treadmills at work stations to help workers get fit? Wash. wellness bill doesn’t go as far as Oregon idea

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on April 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm | No Comments »
April 1, 2013 3:22 pm
Associated Press / A treadmill work station
Associated Press / A treadmill work station

A story out of Oregon on Monday shows a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist using a treadmill while also working at his computer work station – a melded set-up designed to make desk work less bad for a person’s health. The headline on the piece by Stateline.org’s Melissa Maynard calls treadmill desks the “latest in office supplies,’’ and it does not appear to be an April Fools Day spoof.

The featured doctor, James Levine, invented the device and he was using the device when he testified via teleconference to a recent Oregon committee hearing. Some lawmakers led by Republican Rep. Jim Thompson are giving the concept a look, and you can read Maynard’s story here.

Washington state has an interest in employee wellness, too, and the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee is giving a hearing Tuesday morning to Sen. Rodney Tom’s still-evolving worker wellness proposal, Senate Bill 5811. No, it doesn’t have treadmills.

The Tom proposal was amended in the Senate and passed on a divided vote last month. UnlikeTom’s original bill, the new approach The new version does not actually strip healthcare coverage from collective bargaining.

House Democrats on the committee still don’t like the amended bill, and Rep. Chris Reykdal, the Democrat who is committee vice chairman, said it still mandates the outcome of wellness programs, which he and labor groups think should be the topic of collective bargaining. That doesn’t bode well for the bill – although the committee chair, Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, has scheduled it for a possible committee vote at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

The Washington Federation of State Employees is still opposing Tom’s measure, too. It calls for differential rates on health premiums – so employees who work toward wellness goals pay a lower rate and those who don’t pay more.

Spokesman Tim Welch said the union is not opposed to wellness – or differential premiums. But he thinks it should be between management and workers, not the Legislature, to preordain.

“We love wellness but the bill is still an attack on collective bargaining. Until that get fixed we will continue opposing it,” Welch said Monday.

He said the King County government’s approach on wellness, which often is cited as a success, was to negotiate with unions. He said that giving help paying for gym memberships could be part of the solution.

As for the idea of differential premiums, he said: “Great concept but why not take that to the bargaining table? What are you afraid of? Come to the table and respect the intelligence of your employees and see what you can get.”

Welch said  the unions bargained with former governor Chris Gregoire’s labor team last summer over a wellness incentive program. But it was withdrawn at the Public Employment Benefits Board because, Welch has said, the limited amount of state dollars put into the program meant the incentive would shrink almost to nil if many workers opted to use it.

Gov. Jay Inslee also has talked a lot about prevention and wellness programs as ways to limit the taxpayer’s cost of paying for employee health care insurance. Inslee says he intends to resume conversations with the 26 labor unions whose negotiations broke down last summer, and he has indicated he expects those talks to get back on track after session.

So far, treadmills are not part of the talks. But Welch entertained the idea of treadmill desks – after first quipping that they could generate electricity to run the computer.

Reykdal said the idea of treadmills sounds expensive and that building a gym in an office building for workers to utilize might make more financial sense.

Maybe Reykdal is on to something.

Or maybe he hasn’t seen this interview video, which Stateline.org’s story linked to:

Stay tuned.

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