Friday, October 31, 2014

Our members are our strength

They say you can judge a person by the relationship they have with the people around them. Certainly, this is true in the relationship between a union president and their executive board. The president is expected to lead, but the president is not the "expert." Surrounding oneself with competent, reliable people makes a president's job so so much easier.

I am one lucky president.

My executive board of Melissa, Donna 1 and Donna 2, Marji, Michelle, Jess, and Carol, are backed up by a great team of delegates.  They are my council, my strength, and my direction.
Yoda said, "A Jedi's strength flows from the force."  If that be true, then the membership is the force of the union and that force flows through the delegates and eboard.
And like in the mythical Camelot, we strive for a round table, where each is an equal.
Many a time, their wise council will change my mind, and when it does not, the eboard is not afraid to overrule me, as is their right as constitutionally elected officers.
I do not like being over ruled, but I accept that the process is there for a very important reason. (and they're usually right)
My friend Jan says it this way. Our organization is an "upside-down pyramid."
The members are at the top, the eboard in the middle, and the president at the bottom.

Melissa is by right hand, she is more than capable of representing the membership in any meeting she attends. As VP and Chief Delegate, she also handles grievances and the delegates report to her. She is also handling workplace assaults.
Donna 1 has made us financially stable as our treasurer, she is truly a steward of the members dues.
Marji followed Donna 2 in the role of Secretary and is responsible for keeping up with the ebb and flow of members as they come and go from Backus. They have both done a remarkable job.  
Carol is the best political Liaison ever. Her knowledge level is remarkable and her relationship with those in power serves us well.
Michelle was VP until family obligations forced her to step back, but she is now handling workplace staffing and Ebola prep, and will head up our negotiations committee.  
Jess keeps watch over Plainfield and serves as adviser to me.

The delegates represent their floors and units, representing members in meetings and on grievances.
One of them, Dave, has taken over the newsletter, and is doing a great job.

With all these people doing all this, you may ask, "What do you do John?"
Somehow I keep busy, mostly with issues in the community, the state federation and statehouse, and the national. Every time someone takes over a role, a new one seems to come along. That's OK, because it makes our union stronger.

But what really makes us stronger is our members, because the union is not me or the ebaord, or someone off in Rocky Hill or Washington.  That's the leadership, it's not the union.  The union is you, and you, and you and all of us, standing together as one.  
That is our strength.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I was a small kid, one of the smallest in my class.  Walking home from school was an adventure. A couple of the older kids would have fun at my expense.  Nothing major, just kid stuff, pushing me down and laughing, like that.
One day my dad drove up while this was occurring. I'm not sure if he planned it, or if it was just chance, but it felt like a guardian angel had come to my aid.
He gave them a tongue lashing.
The bullying stopped.

Flash forward a few years to 6th grade. Kevin was one of the few kids in my class who was smaller than I was, what we would now call a nerd.  On top of that, he was always so pale and sickly looking.
George was the class bully.  He never bothered me, I think because I was good at sports so I fit in.
Kevin, he did not fit in, and George picked on him bad.
Usually, when the bullying started, George's crew would cheer him on and the rest of us would stand on the outskirts, knowing that it was wrong, but afraid to say anything.

One day I snapped.  Maybe it was the memories of being bullied, maybe the feeling that by doing nothing, I was still being bullied, I don't know.  But on this day, I stood up to George.
I was no match.
He was bigger, he was stronger.
My only fight in school did not go well.
The nuns broke it up, George got in trouble, and I gained the respect of George and the rest of the class.

Keven is probably a tech giant now. Poor George lived hard and is no longer with us.

I can fall back into the victim role if I am not careful, but if you bully those I care about, or push me too far, I get my Irish up.

In 2011 it happened at work.  They pushed and pushed and pushed, and 350 Registered Nurses, most who had never stood up for themselves before, most who had never been in a union, stood up, stood tall, stood together and against great odds, against Jackson Lewis union busting law firm, against millions of dollars spent against us, formed the Backus Federation, and gained a voice for ourselves and our patients.

It happened again in 2013, when our brothers and sisters at L+M hospital faced a hospital that had lost it's way. Our brothers and sisters stood up and we stood with them in solidarity because everyone knows a Kevin and everyone knows a George, and bullying is wrong.

Bullies will always be with us, in schools and workplaces and elsewhere.
They are small people, trying to put others down so as to appear larger themselves.
When we face them, we will be scared.
But face them we must, because if we do not, others suffer.
If we do not, we suffer.
If we do not, a part of us dies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A nurse's view on teacher tenure

I must preface this blog by reminding you of two things.
First, I am an nurse, not a teacher.
Second, I am a Nurse's Union president in AFT, which represents, healthcare, education and public employees.
I remind you of this because I am not an expert on teacher's issues, although I am rapidly becoming more familiar and I stand in solidarity with our teachers.

That being said, TIME magazine is about to publish a cover that misrepresents teachers and teacher tenure.  I'm told that the articles inside show a more balanced story that looks at the motives of millionaires' attack on tenure and the potential profits from private vs public schools for certain individuals.
Sound like the for-profit movement in healthcare?
My concern is this.  How many will see the cover, but not the articles?

The bottom line is that students and patients should come before profits, and in both cases, it is important to look at motives.  No for-profit company buys a hospital,or takes over a school system, to lose money.

So, what is teacher tenure?
Fair question.

Non union workers in this country can be fired for any reason or no reason. You remind the new boss of the guy who cheated with his wife......see ya!
It's not right, but it's the way it is.
Now, do you want a nurse in that position?
Say the boss orders the nurse to cut corners on your care.
The nurse refuses.
What happens?
The nurse can be fired and sometimes is.  It's legal. It's crazy.
But, if that nurse has a union contract, they have "just cause".  The can only be fired for a "just cause."
Which nurse do you want caring for you?

Now, lets look at education.
The principal or superintendent is pressured by the school board to make sure the star athlete passes classes so that they are eligible to compete for the state championship, even though the student sleeps though class (when they show up), never studies or hands in assignments, and is failing.  The teacher, feeling this harms the student in the long run, refuses to go along. 
Teachers do not have "just cause" contracts. Instead, they have "tenure", by law, which for practical purposes, serves the same purpose.
It means, in our scenario, that the teacher could stand up for the student and what was right.

What about "bad" teachers you ask?

Each state law differs slightly.
Connecticut is typical.
In Connecticut, a teacher must serve 4 years probation, before having tenure.
So, they go through a rigorous hiring process, then the principal, superintendent, and school board have 4 years to observe them, during which time, they can decide not to bring them back for the following year, without explanation or proof of wrong doing.
4 years.
That's a long time to evaluate someone. 

After 4 years, the teacher has tenure, so they can't be fired, right?
The can be fired for “inefficiency or incompetence” based on evaluations, insubordination, moral misconduct, proved disability, elimination of the position where no other position is available, “other due and sufficient cause” or, ineffectiveness."
However, there is a process where the tenured teacher can defend themselves against allegations.  
Have their "day in court" if you will.
Sounds like something our country was built on, innocent until proven guilty.

That star athlete, does he end up winning the state championship and bragging the rest of his life about his "greatest achievement" or does he buckle down, study, go to college, and maybe really benefit mankind?

Nurses are motivated to care for patients.
Teachers are motivated to develop young minds.
Millionaires are motivated to become billionaires.

If you want to help: 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ellis Tech Visit

Thursday was a real good day.
I had the opportunity to tour Ellis Tech High in Danielson, CT with the officers of SVFT (the local which represents teachers at all the Connecticut Vo-Tech high schools), Jan Hochadel, Brian Bisson, and Ed Leavy, and meet with the teachers and students.
In a word, I was impressed.
I grew up in the Danielson area but attended the other public high school in town, Killingly.  I had friends at Ellis.  When I received my community college management degree, most of my classes were at Ellis because they hadn't built the collage campus yet. So in some ways it was like going home.
The school has been rebuilt and it is beautiful.
The first thing we did was have lunch, prepared and served by the students of the culinary class. When we arrived, they were serving 20 or 30 senior citizens from a local senior housing complex, who had come for lunch. The food and service was fantastic, the place immaculately clean.  The instructor came to sit with us and from time to time, one of the students would come near the table, wait patiently until he turned to them, and they would have a question.  Sometimes he would answer and they would be off, a couple of times he excused himself, went with them to the kitchen or the cash register, and instructed them.  It was so cool to watch and each and every time, they would call him "chef."
That respect from the students to the teachers was repeated in every interaction I witnessed.
After lunch, Brian and I toured the shops while Jan and Ed toured the academic classrooms.
Brian would ask about safety and filtration (he handles safety as VP of the local), and how the "climate" was in the building between teachers and administration and teachers and each other.
By the way, let me say how refreshing it was to see an administration respecting the union leadership.
We struggle with that at the hospital.
At the end of the school day and we all met up and attended a meeting with the teachers. Each officer took a turn relaying information, answering questions and hearing concerns. When they gave me a chance to address the teachers I told them how impressed I was in the pride the teachers had in their shops, in their work, and in the work their students and former students were doing.
It was a great opportunity for the president of an AFT healthcare local, and I am fairly certain it will not be my last. There is no substitute for face to face interactions, especially when you can have them in the place people work.
The more time I spend with the education members of my union, they more I believe that although there are differences between education, healthcare, and public employees, there is more similar than dissimilar.
We all instruct, we all counsel, we all look out for the physical and emotional needs of those we serve.
I'd like to thank Jan, Brian, Ed and the teachers and students of Ellis for letting me be part of their day.
After the visit, we headed for New London for a big Labor rally, the Governor's debate, and the after party.
The perfect way to end the day.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I am no Ebola expert.
I am an emergency room nurse and I am president of a 350 member RN union, and I am concerned, and I feel a responsibility to keep my nurses and my patients safe, to the extent I can.
That means working with the Hospital, the Department of Public Health, and my state and national federations to stay updated on all the news and to be a voice in the narrative.
My heart goes out to the people and families who have succumbed to this disease and their families and to the nurses and other healthcare workers who have become sick, potentially exposed, and/or frightened. Healthcare workers worldwide feel a kinship, similar to the kinship felt among unionists. The effected nurses and healthcare workers are my sisters and brothers.
I believe it is prudent for us to be concerned and do all we can do to stay safe, I do not believe hysteria helps us one bit.
Healthcare unions are pushing education to our members and the public. We are advocating for appropriate PPD (personal protective equipment) and protocols to keep patients, public and members, safe.
Healthcare workers do not face the same dangers on the job as say, police or fire.  But we do face physical aggression and in cases like this, viruses.
We want to serve our patients the best we can, and then return home safe to our families.
All workers deserve this.
I ask you to remain calm, to stay informed, and to use your voice to help us contain and eradicate this virus