Saturday, March 21, 2015

You get the movement you are willing to fight for

The nurses at my hospital have started the process of negotiating a new contract.
The process of negotiating a contract is interesting.  
People come up to me all the time and say "Make sure you get ...Fill in the blank."  
There are 400 nurses, and probably just as many things to fill in the blank with.
I tell my members,
You get the contract you are willing to fight for.

What does that mean?
Getting what you want is not a matter of coming up with a logical argument and convincing management, that works maybe 2% of the time.
We have made many common sense proposals.  Most will be rejected. 
"Can't you just convince them that it's fair?"
No, if that worked, we could just write a contract and they would sign it,
Nor will yelling, or pounding our fists on the table work.
What works is being willing to take action and making sure they know we are willing to take action.
Nothing demonstrates that better than members who are involved.  That's why we insist on open negotiations on campus.
So, I ask my members to show up or don't complain that the "union" didn't get you a what you wanted.  You are the union, and you will only demonstrate it by being there.

There is a correlation between this and building a union movement you can be proud of.
You get what your are willing to work for, what you are willing to fight for.
You can't expect "the union" or "the company" or "the government", to do ...fill in the blank.
You have to be involved, you have to be informed, you have to be active.
I understand we all have busy lives and we are involved in many things to help our communities.
That's great!  Keep it up!
It's not so much a matter of spending more time, it's a cultural shift, it's a new way of thinking. 
To recognize our responsibility as leaders, each one of us.  
Responsible for building a better Hospital, a better nursing profession, a better community, a better union and a better labor movement. 

I was recently at an AFT conference.
I spoke to many people who work in our Washington office.
They always ask about the Backus Nurses.
They are consumed with projects and global issues, but they also keep an interest in our hospital.
They aren't here for the day to day, but they keep us in mind and, when and if we ask for help, they are always ready to support us.

We need to do that with our unions, our communities and our government.
We need to be informed and involved, and when needed, we need to step up and take action.
That is how we build a union movement we can be proud of, one which is inclusive, open and transparent.
If we do this I know that not only will we build a better life for ourselves and our families, but together we can build a better world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The spirit of St Patrick's Day

On this St Patrick's Day I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

Looking back on my old blogs I came across this one, written just after the nurses voted to form a union at my hospital.
I am, without a doubt, the product of my ancestors. Their DNA and their spirit lives in me.
My grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins, have served and continue to serve, family, community and country.
On this St Patricks Day, the first without mom or dad, I am comforted by the love of my cousins.
Their blue eyes and red hair, and their Irish spirit, remind me that our ancestors live on within us.
I am also comforted by the friendships I have found, all over this country, people who believe as I believe, that all the human race is related, that God put us here to support each other and to be guided by love, not greed.

I wish you that love this St Patricks Day.
I think all our Grandparents would be proud.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I think Grandpa would be proud

When I was growing up we visited my grandparents most weekends. We spent summer evenings playing in their yard with our cousins. In Grandma and Grandpa's living room was a tall piano. I never saw anyone play it but on top of it was a line of wooden hammers. I later learned these were Grandpa’s gavels and that Grandpa, James J Brady, received one for each session of the Rhode Island State Senate that he presided over as President Pro Tem. He had done what many Irish Americans had done, served in politics. The early Irish Americans saw politics as a way to improve the lives of their families and their communities. On several occasions he acted as the Governor in the absence of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor. His daughters became teachers and all his son's enlisted and served in the armed forces in World War II. My own father, John J Brady, left college and enlisted in the US Marines. He was wounded during an amphibious landing on a beach in the south Pacific when he was hit by a flamethrower. Only the valor of his buddies pulling him to safety saved him. His burns kept him in the hospital in San Diego for a year, he received Last Rites more than once. He survived with multiple skin grafts. 
Some time after meeting my wife she confided that the first time she met him she was shocked by the scars on his face.
I had never noticed. 
He went on to get his degree, marry, and raise 6 children. He died of a heart attack at age 60, too young, and yet God had given him 40 extra years and he never spent another day in the hospital. He never entered politics but always felt a duty to vote in every election. He taught me that every person has dignity, whatever his race, religion, or position. He taught me to never seek out a fight but to never run from one either. I miss him every day. 
What we have done in forming a union is something I believe my grandparents, my father, and my uncles would be proud of. I know my mother and my aunts are. We have stood together, tall and proud, we have stood against adversity, fighting for what lives in the deepest place in our hearts. We have stood up although we feared it might cost us our jobs as we struggled against one of the best union busting firms in the country, Jackson Lewis. We had no choice, we had to, we were compelled to, because of something deep inside us.

This is my story, but I am sure each of us has a similar story, about those who influenced us. 

Now it is time to get to work again, to work together, but I could not look forward without taking a moment to look back and recognize where we came from and acknowledge those who made us who we are.

I think they would be proud.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Right to work?

There is a wave of anti-worker laws sweeping this country, all with the promise of greater freedom and greater prosperity.
The only problem is, the only freedom and prosperity will come to the rich.
Workers have been convinced it is in our interest, we have been convinced unions are greedy, we have been convinced that we should trust the top 1% and that they will "take care of us."

We are being deceived.

Wisconsin recently passed a "Freedom to Work" law, which guarantees no one need pay union dues in order to work at a union shop.
Sounds good on the surface, right?
Right to choose for ourselves and all.
However, if we look under the surface, we see it is an attempt to destroy unions by forcing them to negotiate and represent workers, without the workers paying their fair share.

First, let me state this.
No one is forced to join a union.  No one. Federal law makes it illegal. 
Federal law states that if the workers of a shop decide to unionize, then the union must represent ALL the workers at that shop.  THEN, if the workers and management negotiate language in the contract it allows the union to collect dues to cover the costs of representing these workers. These dues are called "fair share" or "agency fees."
If such a worker wants to be a "member", then they must pay a higher rate, usually about 15% higher, to cover union activities not related representation of the workers,  such as political activity.

This is what concerns politicians such as Scott Walker.  He knows unions will support politicians who support working families and he does not. 

It's like this.
Say there is a shop of 100 people and they decide to form a union.
Say it costs $10/person/week to cover the costs of negotiations, grievances, arbitrations, etc.(fair share costs).
So the guys contribute $1000/week into a kitty and pay expenses out of that.
90 of the guys decide they should fight for laws that benefit their families and for organizing the shop down the street which does the same thing so they can make the whole industry better, so they start kicking in $1 a week extra, but they don't force the other 10 guys to kick in.
Now they have $1090/week.
Scott Walker comes along, and says, "no one has to pay!"  The party of small government and limited regulation decides they should get to say what you can and can’t bargain over.  Even if a majority of the workers in the shop voted for it to be in their contract.
Some guys become slow contributing or even stop (because they're not getting a living wage to start and that's why they unionized), but the negotiation, grievance, and arbitration costs continue to come in. 
Each week the costs exceed the income.
The guys can't work for laws to help their families, they can't even negotiate, grieve or arbitrate effectively.

It's ingenious if you're Scott Walker, who doesn't believe in a middle class.  Studies show states with these kinds of laws do worse and have a smaller middle class and higher wage inequity.

Or, think of it this way.
Your town passes a law that says you don't have to pay your taxes.
However, you still have to fund your school, plow your streets, etc.
Who's going to make up the difference for all your dead beat neighbors not paying?

Everyone needs to pay their "fair share" for the town to function, it's no different in a workplace.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Conversations

I sat in one chair, (Elizabeth)Glenn, an AFT national rep sat in another chair and on the couch across from us, an  oncology nurse from my hospital.
We talked about all the changes happening at the hospital, about how they had frozen our pension, eliminated our longevity bonus, etc, and the need for us to do something about it.

Our nurse got quiet; she looked down at the floor.

There was a long pause.

She lifted her head and she looked at me with tear filled eyes.
"John, they took away my peanut butter. My patients often have only a short period when they are not sick to their stomachs from their chemo and I would give them crackers with peanut butter, so that they would have some protein. Now they've taken my peanut butter."

It wasn't the loss of pension, or bonuses, or raises, or anything else, that moved her.
It was when they took from her patients.

Back in the car, I guess I was quiet, because Glenn asked if I was OK.

I turned to her and said, "I will never stop fighting for people like her. Never."

Since that time, several years ago,  I have travelled widely and spoken to members, leaders and staff from all over the country.
Whether in healthcare, education, or public service, they all say the same thing.
Someone, somewhere, at some time, has taken away their "peanut butter."
Someone took from their patients, their students, the public, or the members they serve.

These conversations have changed my life.
I was reminded of their importance recently when a friend pointed out that as prevalent as social media is today, it is the one to one conversations that are the most powerful.



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Live long and prosper

I could not let the passing of Leonard Nimoy go without saying a few words.
I grew up with Star Trek.
Spock was my favorite character.
Half Vulcan, half Human, logical and emotional, the two sides often pulling at each other, but ultimately, living within him in a restless harmony.
I think at times many of us can see this in ourselves.
He had a philosophy to deal with these internal struggles, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."
How many throughout history have lived and died by this principle, perhaps without ever knowing why, other than that to them it was right.
How many have sacrificed when they knew others needed that sacrifice, placed the needs of the many before their individual needs or wishes.

I was having a discussion with some nurses about our proposals on wages, unveiled just the other night as we start negotiations.
Many questions came up about specific situations, specific people's concerns.
I understand their concerns, but no one proposal is equally fair to each and every member.
The overriding principle must be the needs of the many.

The labor movement must remember this principle.
Members of a local, locals of a union, and unions within the movement, we all must remember this principle.
There is no room for placing one's own interests above the interests of the movement.
None.
The needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few.
Live long and prosper Spock.