Monday, December 15, 2014

Having a voice

The NLRB has issued rule changes that will make it slightly easier for workers to come together and form a union.

It's not a drastic change, but it helps to somewhat level the playing field.

It removes some of the delay tactics that a business can use to delay the worker's right to vote.
It takes a lot for workers to get to the point of organizing, and it takes a lot of courage.
They don't just all of a sudden get together on their day off, have someone say "What do you guys want to do this morning?", and have one guy throw it out there, "Wanta form a union?"
It takes years of mistreatment by management, layoffs in the face of excess profits, unfair terminations of their friends, and more.

Businesses love to delay.

They use the time to spend thousands and even millions of dollars to try to convince the workers that they are making a mistake, that the business will "take care of them' if given a second chance.
Delay time is used to pressure workers, often with illegal "captive audience" meetings.  These meetings are akin to what you have to sit though to get that free vacation at the condo in Florida. Know what I mean?
Except, if you walk out, you can be fired.
These modest rule changes have been years in the making.

Earlier this year, two of my friends, Ole Hermanson, AFT CT organizer, and Donna Marie Miller, a home health aide at the Southeast CT VNA, who recently unionized, traveled to Washington, and Donna testified before the NLRB in favor of these changes.

Ole and I had done the same in 2011.
The rules where changed then, but reversed on a technicality by the Republican congress.

Ole says this is a small gain.
I love brother Ole, but I have to disagree.

No victory is small.

My trip to DC may not have resulted in a quick and lasting rule change, but it changed me.
I realized on that trip that I was a small part of something bigger than a union of 350 nurses at my hospital, I was part of an international movement to bring fairness and respect to all people.
A movement involving Organized Labor, non union working class people, faith based groups, community groups, and others.
On that trip, I discovered that my voice DID matter.
Once I saw this, nothing would be the same again.
I can do little alone, but together we can do anything!
For me, the movement is based on what I learned growing up.
If you were lucky enough to have more than your neighbor, you should not hoard it, you should share it, because you have it through the grace of your Higher Power.

Some businesses believe this, Costco pays it's workers a living wage.
Others do not.
Walmart underpays it's workers, while the owners reap billions in profits, and the workers have no choice than to rely on government assistance to get by.
They profit, we pay.
They call it capitalism, but it is capitalism without ethics.

But the movement is also about something else.
It is about a nurse being able to speak up and advocate for her patients when profits are put before patients, it's about a teacher speaking up and saying that all students deserve a good quality education and that being forced to teach to the test is the wrong way to go, it's about an airline pilot being able to say safety is more important than schedule.
It's about having a voice.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conversations Matter

I am fascinated with conversations.
One can learn so much listening to others.
Today we have a guest blog from my friend Jan on this subject.
She is president of SVFT, the AFT Local that represents the teachers at all the State of Connecticut Vo-Tech Schools and she wrote this letter for her September newsletter.

Conversations Matter
By Jan Hochadel, SVFT President
I am learning that it is almost impossible to have a conversation with a teenage son. So this past summer, I bought Jake a ticket to go with me to the AFT National Convention in Los Angeles. It was a long and tiring plane ride, but I had the chance to share the time with him. I drop him off at Platt each day, but most mornings I only receive one word answers to my questions, and other times he is catching a quick nap. During this summer trip, he was stuck with me in a confined space for over six hours and the result was some amazing conversations. He said he enjoyed seeing me in my element, talking with other union people about how we can make the labor movement better.

Sometimes it is the small moments that motivate me, conversations with Connecticut leaders whom I knew mostly by sight. This year, I got to talk to Lisa D’Abrosco and Stephanie Johnson, who led the L & M strike this past fall. I had a long conversation with John Brady, president of Backus Hospital Federation of Nurses, who was a major part of the organizing campaign for his hospital a few years ago. John’s conversations tend to revolve around the awe in belonging to a newly formed labor-management relationship. We talked about the power of a union, how management can no longer make arbitrary decisions without consulting with the union. All of this is new to him, and he is so excited and inspirational when he talks about where the labor movement can go. Though I did not know any of them well, these conversations reminded me why we talk about “brothers and sister” when we talk about unionism.

My conversation with John reminded me of our most recent trip to Kansas this July, when we knocked on doors to ask prison guards to join the union. These people faced working conditions and low salaries that were difficult for us to understand. We asked them to join their coworkers and agree to pay union dues to help improve the lives of everyone – even coworkers who refuse to pay dues. John had to ask his coworkers to face the anger of management, agree to pay union dues, and take the leap of faith that unionism requires.

Oftentimes I think we take this for granted; few of us had to fight for the rights he describes. Don’t get me wrong, we still have to fight to maintain the rights and make them better, but to try and convince a group of people who have never been in a union to give up a portion of their pay, we have to be able to convince them of the benefit in unionism – collective bargaining, a voice in the workplace, the importance of power in numbers.

And we have to continue to build a labor movement that is worth believing in.

When Joe Tripodi, the principal of Wright THS, asked me to speak to the teachers at the beginning of school year, I wanted to talk about something that would connect my experiences in Los Angeles to the everyday struggles these members would be facing. We all know an administrator who sends out emails in droves to the point where teachers don’t have enough time in the day to read them. We also know those administrators who have a clear presence in the halls and in the classrooms, those who take time to have conversations. We all know each of these styles of communicating sets a clear climate in the building. When I spoke at Wright, I wanted to emphasize that ultimately the teachers’ ability to work collectively will mean more to the success of that school than anything else. Collectively we make the climate. We can choose whom we associate with, and the positive conversations we have. Instead of focusing on the negative, if there is a problem we collectively can come up with solutions. The SVFT leadership is always there to help, but it has to start with you. Whether it is the CTHSS, whether it is L&M, whether it is Backus Hospital, the people who do the work have the ability to create the climate. Conversations matter: make them positive, make then constructive, and make them count.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Proper use of power

This was a busy week.
After working Tuesday, I flew to Cincinnati with Harry Rodriguez, the president of the L+M Hospital Healthcare Workers, getting to the hotel about 1:00 am.
Wednesday and Thursday were filled with meetings, discussions, and training at the ICWUC Center for Worker Health and Safety Education, with fellow AFT members and staff, Roger Woods (Danbury Hospital), Bernie Gerard (HPAE) (New Jersey), Darryl Alexander, and Jonathan Rosen, along with members of National Nurses United, AFGE (government employees), AFSCME, IAM (machinists/airline) and CBTU (black trade unionists).

Our discussions involved not only preparation for Ebola, but all infectious diseases.
For instance, virologists have said for years, that it is a matter of when, not if, we have a flu pandemic.
Our goal is to keep our workers and the public safe.
The amount of knowledge and sharing in that room was amazing!
Hopefully it will lead to training programs for many workers.

Immediately after the session ended on Thursday, Harry and I were back on a plane, getting home about 1:00 am, as we both had to work Friday morning.

It wasn't all work, we squeezed in dinner and breakfast with our AFT brothers and sisters. That comradery is always an important part of trips like this, it builds relationships.

Also this week, a decision came down in the Eric Garner death.
His death was a tragic loss, and there seems to have been too many such deaths this year.
I do not wish to pass judgement.
I feel for police, they put there own safety on the line every day.  I also know that racism still exists, that people of color are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, and that bad cops exist.  That does not mean all cops are bad, or that all young black men are criminals.
It's tragic, we need to address it, and I support non violent actions to bring that change about.

These incidents also point to a global problem.
That is, the abuse of power, by anyone who holds such power over another.
Connecticut is a good example, our former Governor will soon return to jail for the second time, caught in an abuse of power.
Politicians and police do not hold a monopoly however.

Business people can abuse power when they do not behave in an ethical manner. When they violate workers rights, when they pollute the environment, when the cut safety corners, when they reap excessive profits while those working for them are not paid a living wage or receive appropriate benefits.

But we who are Labor leaders must also look in the mirror.
Are we good stewards of our members dues?
Do we give equal consideration to all regardless of how we feel personally about them?
Do we treat other Labor leaders and members with respect?
Do we operate in an open and honest manner?
Do we think, always, not what is best for me, but what is best for my members and the society we serve?

We who are leaders, regardless if police, politician, business, Labor, or other, are in an inherent position of power and have with it a higher obligation to act ethically.

Cincinnati was a working trip in the middle of a busy week. We were tired by the end of it. We could have passed on it and stayed home, but it was important to be part of the conversation, so we went.
That does not us special.
That's what we were elected to do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thoughts over Ohio

As I fly on my way to Cincinnati with my union brother Harry, my thoughts turn to where I have been, both in the physical sense, and in life experiences.
I remember my first union trip and writing a blog on the plane ride home.

I traveled with Ole to DC and testified at the NLRB and spoke at the AFL-CIO.
I couldn't believe what was happening. I kept thinking, sooner or later, they'll realize who I really am, a nurse from Connecticut, not someone who testifies and speaks in DC.

There was a time when I felt like that about nursing. When I finished school and passed my boards, I thought, oh my God, what if they find out who I really am!
Now, after 16 years as an emergency room Registered Nurse, I know what I am capable of.  I'm not perfect, but I know I've played a role in saving the lives of trauma patients, the heart muscle of heart attack patients, the brain of stroke patients.
I also know I've comforted many families at their lowest points.

That trip to DC with Ole was many trips ago.
It's always an honor to represent the members of AFT whenever I have the opportunity.
So, traveling over the skies of Ohio, I asked myself, do I sometimes still think, "could all this be really happening to me?"

But I've traveled a long way.  That feeling of being "found out" is gone.

I know I am good nurse and a good unionist.
There is nothing to "find out."
I live my life trying my best to respect and be of service to others.
That's who I am.
I don't do it perfect, but I try very hard.
And that is good enough.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Open letter to my L+M sisters and brothers

My L+M sisters and brothers,

One year ago you gave us a gift.
You showed us how to put others before ourselves.
You stood up for your patients and your community.
You showed us what is possible when we stand together.

Your administration thought that profits should come before patients,
that you would not have the conviction to stand against them,
that you would not have the solidarity to stand strong together,
that the community would not stand with you,
that your political allies would fold,
that the labor community would sit this one out.

They were wrong on all counts.

It was not easy, the outcome was not certain.
It was wet and it was cold.
You had worries about health insurance, lost wages, Christmas presents, and more.
But you sat and talked with each other in the office to work through concerns, you stood under gas heaters on the coldest nights so that the picket line would always be manned, you watched outdoor movies wrapped in blankets to show you remained strong.

And the community!

Like the manna in the desert, the coffee and donuts never ran out. Cars would drive up, a smiling face, a word of encouragement, more coffee, more donuts. 
The building trades cooked breakfast and lunch for you, right there on the street.
The Elks provided anther dinner.
Local bars and pizza offered discounts.
The fire department delivered Santa with toys from your union sisters and brothers.
There were more politicians than at a convention, and they returned again and again.
The shirts and the hats, and the signs showed the breath of the Labor Community that came to your support, including our AFT president, Randi.
Community organizations and community members provided so much support.

You had no way to know that it would turn out this way, but you had faith, you had solidarity, you had leadership, and you had a belief that your patients and your community hospital would suffer if you did not take a stand.

It was a stand you had to take for the same reason you became healthcare professionals,
it's apart of who you are.
Caring for patients is what you do.

Thank you for standing up for your patients and your community.
Thank you for the lesson in solidarity.

In Service,

John Brady
Backus Federation of Nurses
AFT Local 5149