Friday, December 30, 2011

Let it be

The first funeral that I remember was while I was still quite young.  I think it was my cousin Barry's.  He was older than me and he passed just after high school. 

I remember one of my uncles joking with the young kids, I think it was Paul, but it could have been Jim or Matt.  The point is, I remember seeing the sadness and also the laughter. 
In my family we love each other intensely, not just our immediate family, but our extended family as well, all the aunts, uncles, cousins.  We cry when they leave us but we celebrate as well.  We celebrate their life and we celebrate that they have gone on to what we believe is not an end to life, but a change, an eternal life with their maker and an opportunity to be together again with all those relatives that have gone before them.

At my Uncle John's funeral this week, his grandson Jake, sang a song for us.  It was the Beatles "Let it be".  What a perfect song and what a good job he did, a gift for his grandpa and for all of us. 
Thank you Jake.

When the angel came to Mary and told her she would bear a son, her response was simple,  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.'

The song speaks of giving ourselves to our Higher Power, especially "in my hour of darkness" because "there is still a light that shines on me."

I believe in these "words of wisdom", and yet I struggle.  I struggle in knowing when I am supposed to act and when I am supposed to accept.  When is it time to fight with every God given once of strength against what I see as being unjust in this world and when is it time to leave it all in my Higher Power's hands?
Wiser people than I have pondered this question. 

So I listened to Mary's words once more.
"Let it be done to me according to your word."

Mary didn't accept things how they were, she accepted God's role for her, a role that was far from passive.
It's not so much accepting things as they are as it is accepting that God wants us to work for how things can be.
I like the way Cesar Chavez put it:
"There is no substitute for hard work, 23 or 24 hours a day.  And there is no substitute for patience and acceptance."

Laughter and tears, fighting on and letting go.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NLRB rule change

This summer I had the great honor of traveling to Washington DC at the request of our union, AFT, to testify before the National Labor Relations Board.  At stake was a proposed rule change that would make it harder for companies to delay union elections and to use that time to intimidate workers, thus denying them their constitutional rights to organize and collectively bargain.  There were 2 days of testimony, by both those for and against the rule change.  I spoke for a brief 3 minutes. 

In a win for organized labor, the National Labor Relations Board on 12/21 approved sweeping new rules that would speed the pace of union elections, making it easier for unions to gain members at companies that have long rebuffed them.
The rules, which take effect April 30, simplify procedures and reduce legal delays that can hold up union elections after employees at a work site gather enough signatures to form a union.
"This rule is about giving all employees who have petitioned for an election the right to vote in a timely manner and without the impediment of needless litigation," board chairman Mark Pearce said.
The old rules allowed companies to file frivolous appeals, stalling elections for months or years.

My role was vary small but I was proud to be a part of the process.  Every nurse at Backus should share that pride.  We have come a long way and we have made a difference.  We will continue to make a difference. 

I never wanted to be involved in politics, but one of the roles of a nurse is to advocate.  Lesa Hanson, one of our organizing and negotiating committee members, eloquently said that advocating means at the bedside, in the boardroom, in Hartford and in Washington. 

We cannot be good nurses if we cannot advocate for our patients without fear of retribution!
THAT is what this is all about.

(if you want to see my testimony)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Blessings

I've been giving a lot of thought to this Christmas message post. Thinking about what Christmas means to me.  It's a special time of the year.  The birthday of Jesus, my savior.  God made man, coming into this world to give the ultimate sacrifice, himself. 

As great and important as all that is, I believe His real gift to us was in the way He lived His life.
Born in a manger, as a homeless person if you will.  His first visitors..... shepards, but also open to receiving kings.  He loved them all.  His mother, engaged but not married when she conceived, asked by God to bear His Son.  Her answer...... let it be.  His father, Joseph, a simple Jewish carpenter, visited by an angel, he stands by Mary and Jesus.  He teaches Jesus carpentry, religion, and love of man.

At age 30, following a calling, Jesus leaves the comfort and safety of his life in the carpenter shop to spend 3 years preaching God's love, knowing all the while it will mean His ultimate death.  He surrounds himself with fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes.  He speaks of a Father who loves us and wants our love in return.  He does not judge others, he does not seek for others to serve Him.  He lives his life as an example.

He refuses to judge and stone the women caught in adultery, He praises the woman who gives her last few coins in the temple over the man who gives more but from his surplus, he washes the feet of his disciples.  Over and over he teaches in parables, his message is God and one another. 

Not everyone claims Him as the Messiah or their savior.
I think Jesus would be OK with that.  He never was about claiming the glory, He was about the message.
I think He would be OK with Santa Claus and our modern gift giving too.  Santa stands for bringing joy to the world, so did He.  Some people get upset about the materialism of Christmas, I understand that.  But when Jesus was asked about paying taxes to the Romans what did He say?
He asked who's head was on the Roman coin.  Cesar's they said.  He told them to give to Cesar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's.
When asked where His kingdom was He told them it was not of this world.

He doesn't care about money, doesn't care about materialism, He cares about our hearts and souls, He cares about our love for God and each other.
No, I don't think Jesus would be upset when Santa, or his helpers (parents and grandparents, etc), give gifts out of love, I think he would smile.  I think Jesus would make Santa one of His disciples.

Whatever your personal beliefs, whomever you Higher Power, I wish you love this Christmas and into the next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

If Elfs Got Organized

This is a look at working conditions at Santa"s workshop.  It is intended to be lighthearted and yet at the same time it reminds us that we should always consider the working conditions of those who produce, sell, and deliver what we consume.

I'm a man of reason, and they say "'Tis the season to be jolly"
But it's folly when you volley for position

Never in existence has there been such a resistance
To ideas meant to free us
If you could see us, then you'd listen

Toiling through the ages, making toys on garnished wages
There's no union
We're only through when we outdo the competition

A full indentured servitude can reflect on one's attitude
But that silly red hat just makes the fat man look outrageous

Absurd though it may seem, you know, I've heard there's even been illegal doping
And though we're coping, I just hope it's not contagious

You try to start a movement, and you think you see improvement
But when thrown into the moment, we just don't seem so courageous

You look at yourself
You're an elf
And the shelf is just filled with disappointing memories
Trends come and go, and your friends wanna know why you aren't just happy making crappy little gizmos
Every kid knows they'll just throw this stuff away

We're used to repetition, so we drew up a petition
We, the undersigned, feel undermined
Let's redefine "employment"

We know that we've got leverage, so we'll hand the fat man a beverage
And sit back while we attack the utter lack of our enjoyment

It may be tough to swallow, but our threats are far from hollow
He may thunder, but if he blunders, he may wonder where the toys went

I make toys, but I've got aspirations
Make some noise
Use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There's a list for who's been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf

Bare Naked Ladies/Michael Buble

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I come from an Irish Catholic family so what I know of Hanukkah is limited.

It seems that throughout history, the Hebrews have had periods of self rule alternating with occupation. During at least one of these occupations the rulers promised to let the Jews observe their religious customs and traditions and they did for a while. But, as rulers often do, they reneged on their promise and desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem even erecting an alter to Zeus and butchering pigs. Eventually, the Hebrews got organized and kicked them out.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. After the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this, yet it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready). Hence, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights and days.

I have Jewish friends and relatives and feel at least somewhat connected to the Jewish people.
Both Jews and Irish have faced oppression and occupation and we have persevered.
Christian and Jew also share a spiritual heritage. David, Abraham and Moses are fathers to us all, our Judeo-Christian heritage makes us more alike than not. Jesus, was a Jewish carpenter.
So, while I do not understand Hanukkah like someone who grew up celebrating it, I will celebrate it now.
May this Hanukkah season bring you peace, happiness, and love.
I'll close with my own Irish Hanukkah blessing:

May the roads rise up to meet you
and the wind be always at your back.
May your candles always burn bright
and your oil never run out.
And until there is peace and justice in the world,
may the Lord God hold us all in the palm of His hand.

and a song from the Bare Naked Ladies:

Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

National Writers Union

I started writing this blog in March. I had been keeping a journal off and on for years and more consistently since fall of 2010 when we started to organize. It has been a way for me to understand my feelings and deal with them. It grew out of that need to write and an ever expanding email list of news and encouragement that I had been sending out during the early organizing campaign.
Now,10 months later, am writing my 87th entry.
I guess I had a lot to say.
It has been most rewarding for me.
Ole Hermanson is my editor, he has greatly helped me refine my writing.
Those who know him know that Ole is much more than an editor,he is a wonderful writer, an organizer without equal, he led us, advised us, encouraged us, and has given us a voice. He is also a dear friend.
In the past few months I have come to know another fine man and writer, Wayne Burgess, President of the Southeastern Connecticut Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. This is the group of unions for southeastern Connecticut who come together in solidarity.
Wayne asked if he could use some of my writings for his union newsletter. I was honored to be asked. He also asked me to consider joining the National Writers Union, an affiliate or the United Auto Workers. I didn't have to consider it long.
The National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers. Combining the strength of more than 1,200 members with the support of the United Automobile Workers, the NWU works to advance the economic and working conditions of all writers.
I am now proud to say I am a member.
Solidarity isn't just a word, it means we are stronger together than alone. If our goal is to help the working men and women then we need to work together because there are forces of greed against us.
In my first blog in March I said this:

"One of the roles of a nurse, one of the most important roles I think, is to advocate for his patients.
Our union is not some outside "third party ", it is me and you and the nurses you work with every day, coming together, reaching a consensus, and speaking with one voice. We will be partners with administration, working to make Backus better.For this to happen we need active members from every floor, every shift, every age group, because it is diversity of ideas that makes us strong.Is this dream possible? You bet it is! It is happening already, one floor at a time. I invite you to join us."

That statement is as true now as it ever was.
If this blog has helped in any small way to help you consider the positive that a union can bring, if it has fortified your resolve, if it has given you hope, made you laugh, or made you think about the great gift we call life, then I have succeeded.
For my part, it has bee a wonderful outlet for my feeling and thoughts and you have been a wonderful audience.
And I'm not done yet.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's a wonderful life

This time of year we all gather together and re-watch the classic holiday movies. We all have our favorites, be they in black and white or Chevy Chase and Home Alone.  One of my all time favorites is It's a Wonderful Life from 1946.
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel Clarence. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and the contributions he has made to his community.
George's dream has been to see the world. However, he repeatedly sacrifices his ambition for others. He spends his life running the Bailey Building and Loan Association, that his father started and vital to the people of Bedford Falls because without it they would be at the mercy of  Henry Potter, a heartless slumlord and majority shareholder in the Building and Loan, who also owns the bank and most of the rest of the town.  Without George, the people of Bedford Falls would have little hope of ever owning a home or improving their lives.
George forgets this and Clarence is sent from heaven to help him remember.  If Clarence succeeds, he will earn his wings. 
There are many great scenes, let me share one of my favorites.
On Harry's (George's younger brother) graduation night in 1928, George discusses his future with Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), who has had a crush on him since she was a little girl. Later that evening, George's absent-minded Uncle Billy and Harry break the news to George his father has had a stroke, which proves fatal. A few months later, Mr. Potter tries to persuade the board of directors to stop providing home loans for the working poor. George talks them into rejecting Potter's proposal, but they agree only on the condition that George himself run the Building and Loan. He gives his college money to his brother with the understanding that when Harry returns from college, he will take over the Building and Loan, which of course, doesn't happen.
This scene shows George's passionate speech before the board on why the Building and Loan must continue.  It speaks to the idea that love is more important than greed, an idea George forgets for a time until Clarence helps him remember and realize that though he may not have the most money he is indeed "the richest man in the world"!

Monday, December 12, 2011


On Saturday, the following wonderful letter from John Hayes of Pomfret, appeared in the Norwich Bulletin letters to the editor section:
Appparently, Scrooge has moved to Norwich in the form of the CEO of The William W. Backus Hospital. While the current CEO laughs all the way to the bank to the tune of $600,000 per year, he’s withholding annual holiday bonuses from the nursing staff. He isn’t alone in his merriment. Backus also pays the former CEO, yes, former, as in no longer working there, $700,000 per year. These figures are public through the tax records. The nurses, from Norwich and surrounding communities, are representative of the people to whom they provide care. They may be raising young children, struggling on single incomes or caring for aging parents. They care for people at the best and worst of times. Through birth, illness and even death, nurses are often the ones holding the patient’s hand. The holiday bonus was a small recognition of the contribution the staff makes to Backus’ success in caring for the community. The nurses look forward to this recognition as a way of helping with financial needs. With its coffers overflowing with more than $24 million, and the CEO and former CEO more than amply rewarded, Backus Hospital should acknowledge the work of the nurses and give the bonuses.

Thank you Mr Hayes, and well said.
His letter got us thinking.
Tonight a delegation from the Backus Federation of Nurses attended the Southeastern Connecticut Central Labor Council meeting, a gathering of labor leaders from all the different southeastern Connecticut unions of the AFL-CIO. We approached the council for support.
I am happy to tell you that our brothers and sisters of labor unions across southeastern Connecticut stand in solidarity with us!
They have nominated Backus CEO David Whitehead as
The labor unions of of the area, the state and the nation stand with us.
Millions of people like John Hayes, people who care.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A call for laborers

A man named Matthew wrote, "At the site of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity. They were lying prostate from exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples : "the harvest is good but the laborers are scarce. Beg the harvest master to send out laborers to gather his harvest. "
We are the laborers.
There is much to do.
Many in this world suffer; from poverty, sickness, depression, addiction, spiritual emptiness.
There is no shortage of work for the laborers.
We all have a calling, it may take some time to find it, but if we continue to search, we will find it. It is our way of leaving the world better than we found it.
When we find our calling, we know. The urge to follow it is overwhelming. It is a "calling" because the harvest master calls out to us. Whatever it is, we are to perform it with love and respect for each other. There is dignity in all labor performed in this way.
The harvest master is known by many names, by all religions and all spiritual paths. He does not belong to any one and yet he belongs to all. He is love at it's purest.
And the best part?
He desires closeness to us -
His laborers!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Good Boss

It was a very busy second shift in the ED.  I was a brand new nurse, certainly less than a year into my practice.  I had worked in the ED for 5 years as a nursing assistant and was given the opportunity to start nursing there after a brief orientation on the Med Surg floor.  It was unusual at the time and I was grateful for the chance, now it is common practice.
On this night we had a trauma and the experienced nurses were handling that, leaving a few of us newer nurses to manage the rest of the floor.  One of my patients was having difficulty breathing, the ED doctor was concerned, I could see it in his face.  He ordered an IV drip of magnesium and I started to prepare it.  Back then we mixed most of our own drips, especially on 2nd and 3rd shift.  As I pulled out the vials of magnesium I felt uncomfortable, there seemed to be too many vials.  I ran it by one of the other new nurses and she thought it was OK.  Now I realize that she was as overwhelmed as I was.  My patient's condition deteriorated after we started the drip because I had overdosed him by a factor of 10.  I alerted the doctor that his condition was worse, we stopped the drip and the patient was intubated.  At this point I had no idea that I had made a mistake.  God was watching us all that night, the patient recovered. 
A little while later, while I was standing at the medication Pixis, a wave came over me.  I realized what I had done. 
I almost fell to the floor. 
By now, the experienced nurse who was precepting me was out of the trauma. I went to her and she said to tell the admitting doctor.  I walked over, sat near the hospitalist who was writing orders, took a deep breath and told her.  She had just written an order for an IV with magnesium in it.  She ran a pen line over the line, initialed it, put the pen down, turned to me and said, "It's going to be alright".

A couple of weeks later I was called to the office and Susan Davis, my boss, asked me if I realized what the mistake had been.  I said yes and we talked about it.  Sue said " I know you'll never make that mistake again".  That was the total of my disciplinary action.

Today, our Pixis machines are in rooms instead of on the open floor, with it's distractions while you are pulling and mixing meds. The confusion over labeling of electrolytes in both milligrams and milliequivalents is minimized.  We mix meds in the med room and are encouraged to  have the pharmacy mix meds whenever possible. 
That is what came of my mistake, because I had a boss who looked out for me and who corrected flaws in the process.  There are still things we need to work on, such as help for less experienced nurses and appropriate staffing ratios that take into account patient severity and nurse experience.
Sue was a good boss, an advocate for her patients and her nurses. She now teaches Nursing in Virgina and works part time in an ED.
She recently sent me an email about a trend toward criminalizing nursing mistakes:

Hey John!
This article made me think about patient-nurse staffing ratios at WWBH. Nurses are now more than ever, at risk for legal actions. I firmly believe that staffing ratios and nurse's complex assignments set us up to fail. Maybe there is some information here for you to blog about. Always thinking about my family at WWBH.

The Criminalization of Nursing Mistakes

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Don't piss off an Irishman

Can I tell you something?
I'm pissed.
I'm sorry, but I am.
We have been meeting with management for 5 months. They arrive late every session and they just don't seem prepared when they do get there. I wonder if they even talk with each other between sessions.
It's disrespectful.
Our committee has met for countless hours to prepare. Five months ago we gave them a complete contract proposal. They have only responded to about a third of it. I am told it is not unusual, management considers it part of the game, part of the negotiation dance.
I don't want to dance and to me it's not a game, this is my life, it is the lives of my coworkers, it is the lives of my patients and it is the financial life of my hospital.
We will do what we can to move things along but in the meantime remember that we ARE a union and we have to act like one.
We have stepped in and intervened for nurses in discipline/discharge proceedings, protecting their rights, making a bad situation better for them and the hospital.
We got an extension on filing for insurance for next year. Management had given ten days and with everyone's busy lives many people, nurses and others, missed the deadline. We got a one week extension.
Some nurses are being told that vacations past a certain date can't be approved. We have spoken to Human Resources and they have assured us that this is not the case. If you are told otherwise let us know and we will intervene for you as we already have for others.
Management denied nurses the bonus they earned from a year of hard work. We filed charges with the labor board and if needed we will take them to trial.
We had wanted to have negotiations at the hospital to make it more convenient for nurses to stop in during dinner breaks or after work and to save both union and hospital money but management refused. That is their right. So we applied for the use of the hospital conference rooms for negotiation update meetings and were tentatively approved and then denied. These rooms are used by all kinds of community groups so to deny us was discriminatory. We filed charges with the labor board and the hospital gave in. Our first meeting was well attended and people wanted to know what they could do to help.
Some people can't make negotiations for various reasons, we understand.
There are other things you can do to help.
Wear your union buttons, tell us if you need more.
Call David Whitehead at 860-889-8331 ext 2722.
Tell him to listen to the nurses and instruct his team to negotiate in good faith. His secretary will answer the phone, give her the message, or call at night and leave a voice mail. Call often.
There seems to be a feeling from management that this is their hospital to do with what they want. They have had complete control and they want to keep it that way.
Guess what, if we thought they were being good stewards of our community hospital we wouldn't have gone though all this trouble. It is the community's hospital and we all answer to them.
So, I'm angry, but I'm not discouraged.
You are my strength.
You are the entire committee's strength.
We will prevail, we will bring our hospital to where it should be.
The only question is this.
Will management help or be a hindrance?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Si se pluede

Growing up in the 60s I knew I had cousins in California, I new Disneyland was there, and I knew I wanted to go!
I also remember my parents starting to talk about a man with a funny name. For some reason this man didn't want us to eat California grapes. There was a great level of respect in my parent's voice when they spoke about this man.
Grapes disappeared from our home.
We were told to pray for this man from California with the funny name.
Years later I would find out, this man was Cezar Chavez.
Born in a small adobe home in Yuma, Arizona in 1927. His family became migrant farm workers in California after losing their small farm in the Depression. He served in the navy in WWII. He returned to the fields until becoming a community organizer in 1952. In 1962 he confounded the National Farm Workers Association, later to become the United Farm Workers. In 1965 he led a 5 year strike and nationwide grape boycott to improve the rights and lives of migrant workers. In 1966 he gained the support of Senator Robert Kennedy. In 1968 he went on a 25 day hunger strike for the principles of non violence. There would be many more hunger strikes, influenced by the Catholic tradition of doing penance and by Gandhi's fasts and emphasis of nonviolence.
He was a student of Gandi and Jesus. He lived his live based on the principles of nonviolence, love for others, social justice, and the non accumulation of wealth.
At the end of his fast in 1968 he said these words: “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of humanity, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice. To be human is to suffer for others. God help us to be human.”
He was a tireless worker for civil rights, workers rights and the dignity of all people. He died in Arizona in 1993, not far from his boyhood home, with little accumulations, still fighting for those rights, that dignity.
The United Farm Workers have a slogan, "Si se pluede", "yes we can".
With God's help we truly can be human.
Si se puede!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unfair Labor Practice

Backus Nurses were in the paper again because we filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against Backus Management. 
It occurred to me, I know what that means, but do others?
The decision to file these charges are made by the Negotiations Committee on advice of our lawyers, field rep, and organizers.  Let me take a minute to explain labor law very briefly.  Remember, I am not an expert, but all of the committee is learning fast.
Labor laws in the United States protect workers rights and facilitate the relationship between organized labor and management.  The National Labor Relations Board oversees and administers these laws. If one side feels the other side has violated the law, they file an Unfair Labor Practice charge.  The NLRB then investigates and if they find merit in the case they prosecute. Often, the NLRB convinces one side to give in, but if not, a trial is held. Any settlement, whether by agreement or trial, seeks to "make whole" the situation. 
As an example, if a union member had been fired illegally, the person would be rehired with back pay. 
Since most charges are filed against management, and few against labor, most labor people would like to see stronger laws and penalties. 
This past summer I testified before the NLRB in Washington about the intimidation and stall tactics that Backus management took against us during our organizing campaign.  It was part of an effort to strengthen these laws.
The NLRB found sufficient evidence to prosecute and Backus management settled prior to trial.  They had to post on the hospital intranet that they would not violate the law. They had done the same after breaking the same law when guards organized a few months earlier.  Because both groups were successful in their organizing election, the situation was already "made whole".  Had either group been defeated, the NLRB would have ordered a new vote. 
Recently the hospital agreed to our use of conference room #1 for union negotiation update meetings.  They did so because we had filed charges against them due to union discrimination.  (the rooms are used by other groups, such as the Boy Scouts, yet the hospital refused to let us meet there)  When it became clear that the NLRB felt we had a strong case management gave in and we then withdrew our charge. We will start having meetings there soon.
We also filed a charge due to the hospital's refusal to provide insurance information as required by law.  This information is needed for us to develop proposals.  It appears that the hospital may now be ready to give us that information to avoid a trial and if they do we will withdraw the charge.
Last week we filed another charge against management over the shared rewards program and I blogged extensively about it in last Thursday's blog.
We will continue to monitor management's behavior.  Whenever they violate our rights we will file charges.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Come see for yourself

When workers vote to form a union and begin bargaining a contract management is prohibited from changing any practices until agreement on a contract is reached. When changes are made that either grant a benefit or take one away before the contract is reached it is called a Unilateral Change in Working Conditions. While we have serious concerns about the current Pay for Performance system, it is the current practice. When management announced they would not give nurses their deserved raises or bonus until our union agreed to specific contract language they committed an unfair labor practice.
The three components of the shared reward program are the practice at the hospital and by law must be continued until there is a contract in place.
What's worse, they are still enforcing the evaluation portion of the program! Management is trying to use the raises we count on as leverage and they are breaking the law to do it!
When we questioned management on this their attorney said the evaluations were separate and not connected to raises. Management claims that the raises in the past were in no way connected to your score on your evaluation.
However, hospital spokesman Shawn Mawhiney said Monday that the bonuses and other rewards are given to employees as part of a pay-for-performance system. "Both the performance of the individual employee as well as that of the hospital are factors in determining how much each employee receives, along with the number of hours worked", he said.
So.....which one is it? 
"This isn't some new practice," said Lisa Currier, registered nurse. "The hospital has given bonuses to employees every year. By changing that practice they're breaking the law. This is as illegal as changing the policy for overtime."

Another nurse, Donna Callicut, said the issue was discussed as part of the contact negotiations between the union and the hospital. Talks are scheduled to resume next week.

"I was at the bargaining table when we made it clear to management that we expect them to continue the practice of giving bonuses to everyone based on hours worked," she said.
Shawn Mawhiney also said,"We offered them exactly what other employees were getting, and they refused," he said. The hospital would not award the bonuses solely on the basis of hours worked, he added.
"You can't have one without the other," he said. "We're not going to apologize for asking the nurses to live up to the same standards we set for everyone else in the organization."

The "same standards we set for everyone else" is, according to the hospital's lawyer, to continue the system we have, and that would be the only compensation for nurses for the three year contract if we would agree to it. It wasn't a serious offer and it did not address the bonuses at all. 
We have given a detailed wage proposal.  It can be accessed by a link on this blog and at  To this date, the hospital has not responded to our wage proposal nor have they offered a proposal of their own.
When we started negotiations we attempted to hold them at the hospital so that nurses could attend and watch and listen for themselves. 
The hospital refused.
However, negotiations are open. 
Come see for yourself

It is times like these when it becomes crystal clear why every nurse should be at negotiations. You have the opportunity to hear for yourself management's position. If you have questions there will be time for everyone to get answers. Over one hundred nurses have come out, many for multiple sessions. Next week we have a marathon session of bargaining and we will certainly be talking about the bonuses as well as other economic issues and seniority. Come out and be a part of shaping our contract. Courtyard by Marriott
5:15pm – 10pm
Monday November 28th
Tuesday November 29th
Wednesday, November 30th
Come in for 15 minutes or the whole session but come out and support the nurses sitting at the bargaining table.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is this week. There are certain times in the year that it seems natural to pause, think about where we have been, where we are, where we're going, reevaluate life's direction, and give thanks for our blessings. Truth be told, we'd all be better off if we did this more often.
I am blessed in a belief in a Higher Power, whom I choose to call God, who loves me the way I am, who gives me the grace (puts people and situations in my life) to become a more loving person, who gives me free will to choose my own path, and who cheers me on and watches over me. If I remember this and base my life on it I do alright.
I am thankful for my family and extended family, I am surrounded by loving sons, grandchildren, cousins, nieces, nephews, and in laws. Mostly, I'm thankful for Michelle, my best friend, who has somehow survived over 36 years of being married to me.
I am also thankful to have found nursing, it is more than a profession, it is a vocation. It's what I'm supposed to be doing at this point in my life.
Nursing has a responsibility to constantly evaluate itself, correct course when needed, and move forward. It should involve nurses in decisions, it should be patient focused, it should nurture new nurses, it should promote the idea that the bedside nurse is at the pinnacle of the profession, not the starting point.
18 months ago I was unhappy with the direction of nursing at Backus. Today I have hope.
I am thankful to the American labor movement and especially the people of AFT Connecticut. They have guided us, given us the resources needed, and yet we retain our autonomy. Our cause is to correct the direction of Backus nursing and we own that cause.
I am thankful to my coworkers who have dedicated themselves to this cause. You have risked your livelihood because you believe in nursing and are willing to fight for it.
I am thankful for all the support given to the organizing and negotiations committees. We have asked a lot, you have responded. I recognize you have busy lives. I wish I could say thank you, we are done asking, but I cannot. There is more to do, there always is. We will continue to ask and you will respond, because of who you are, loving, caring people. You are nurses.
I am thankful for the trust so many have placed in me. It is a wonderful compliment. I recognize how special this is and what a responsibility it is.
My hope is that because of our work now, sometime in the future, a nurse will pick up on a subtle change in a patient's condition and that will lead to a good outcome. That nurse will be there and have the experience needed to catch the change because we improved conditions so that she wanted to stay at the bedside, was encouraged to stay at the bedside, and was rewarded for staying at the bedside. It is my hope that this will be the norm, not the exception.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It must be the songs

Management doesn't seem to like organized labor very much.
At Backus they hired Jackson Lewis, a proud and prestigious law firm, one of the top union busting firms in the country, and one of the most expensive, to fight the security union.  After spending millions in the fight and losing to about 30 guards and support workers, Backus hired Jackson Lewis again and spent several million to fight their own nurses.  The nurses won.
I don't understand.  Management is always talking about how important it is to listen to workers but when workers try to establish a voice, management fights them.
There can be one and only one answer.
It's our songs.
Labor has cool songs, management doesn't, and they're jealous.  It's the only thing that makes sense. 
I kind of feel for them, I mean we do have great songs.
Management has.....well, nothing.  I searched and searched.  I did find one scene from Blazing Saddles with a work song that may help.  I hope so, then maybe management won't be so angry. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Negotiotions Update #2



We met Monday till about 11:30 pm.

We made some progress but it is painfully slow.  Our recent campaign with the commercial, the publishing of the hospital's financial records, and the several labor board charges we have filed has helped.

We have successfully negotiated the use of Conference room 1 for union meetings, but not negotiations.  We will hold update meetings a day or two after negotiation sessions.

We have tentative agreements on several "nuts and bolts" issues that deal with the relationship between the hospital and our local. One of the most important in my opinion is a good grievance procedure. 

When we have tentative agreement on ALL the issues they become our tentative contract. 

ALL UNION MEMBERS will then vote on this tentative contract and if and only if it passes will it become our ratified contract.  

The hospital has promised to start answering our proposals on economic issues.

This is when we really need member support to negotiate well.

Greg Kotecki is a skillful negotiator and your 16 union committee members sitting across from the 4 hospital committee members is impressive, but it's the people filling the rest of the seats in the room that make us strong. 


Think of it this way- when we have a patient in the emergency room getting out of control, we call for help. When all of security and numerous ED staff members arrive in a "show of force"  the patient usually complies with less of a fight.


Members filling the chairs are our "show of force".


Either way we will negotiate a contract.  How strong that contract is, how good a deal we can negotiate, depends directly on how strong our "show of force" is.

Our next round of negotiations is the week after Thanksgiving.  It is a marathon session, 3 nights in a row, November 28, 29, 30.

The negotiations committee will be there, for all 18 hours or so, we need you to be there also.

I'm asking everyone to look at their schedules, find 30 minutes on one of those 3 nights and commit to it.


On another matter, I would like to welcome Karen Knight to the hospital.  Karen comes to us from Olean General Hospital in upstate New York.  Olean General is a member of the NYSNA union family and Karen has experience working with the union.  We look forward to a long, productive relationship working together to make Backus the best possible hospital for it's patients, employees and the community.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"You cannot serve both God and money": Matthew

43 countries have laws requiring graphic images on cigarette packages to discourage smoking. The United States and Australia are poised to enact similar laws.
Last week, in a lawsuit brought by cigarette makers, a US court issued a temporary injunction to delay the US law based on questions of constitutionality.
In Australia, where the new law received broad political support, cigarette companies are also fighting back. They're accusing the government of everything from copyright infringement to violating free trade agreements. They're also threatening to flood the market with cheap cigarettes. David Crow is CEO of British-American Tobacco, Australia's biggest cigarette company. "We will obviously focus on pricing, given it's the only thing really left to focus and differentiate brands. More people will smoke. We all know. Things get cheaper, people buy more, and more kids will smoke. And that is obviously completely opposite to what the government intends."
I understand the argument about free speach and constitutionality.
What I don't understand is this:
How can anyone, individual or corporation, place greed ahead of people's welfare?
What ever happened to ethics?
What good is human existence if money has more value than people?
Money will never buy happiness an no amount of money is ever enough. Money can be a drug, the more you have (once your basic needs are met) the more you want. The pursuit of greed led to our Wall Street crisis. It is causing the increasing gap between rich and poor. If we are not careful it will lead to the collapse of our civilization.
We need a new philosophy, individual, corporate, and government. A philosophy that says we are all in this together, that people come before profits, that love is more valuable than money.

Friday, November 11, 2011

All gave some, some gave all

I want to say thank you on this Veterans Day to all who have served our country in the military, those who now serve, and their families.
A personal thank you to my father and uncles, my father in law and his brothers, my brother Mike and brother in law Wayne, all my cousins and cousin in laws, and the many people I work with, who served and currently serve.
Your example of sacrifice inspires me.
So many have given so much so that I can enjoy the freedoms I do. I have a responsibility to be a good steward of those freedoms.
Thank you

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ohio workers standing tall!

Ohio workers have stood up, stood tall, stood proud, and stood in solidarity!
They have protected the rights of teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and all middle class working families by defeating Senate bill 5!
Shortly after taking office, Ohio governor John Kasich pushed SB 5 to repeal collective bargaining rights of Ohio public employees that dated back to 1983. The bill would have died in committee and never come to a vote, but Republicans replaced Sen Bill Deity (R), who opposed it, with Sen Clifford Hite (R), who favored it.
The bill stripped public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights, including a ban on strikes, elimination of binding arbitration, eliminating the right to bargain health care benefits, watering down bargaining rights on employee qualifications, work assignments, promotion rules, pay raises, and more.
Unlike the private sector, public sector workers are not protected by federal labor law. They fall under state law.
Workers across the country have seen their rights eroded, often in the name of balancing budgets, be they public entities or private companies.
Instead of including workers in the process and working together to a better common end point, many cities, states, and companies would rather strip workers of their rights and ignore the suggestions of those who actually do the work.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney passed away last week. He was 92. Most of us knew him best from his years on 60 Minutes. From 1978 until just a month ago, he ended each show with his short commentaries. 33 years, 1097 shows.
His homespun philosophy ranged from the mundane ("I don't like music I can't hum", I don't understand "wash and wear" clothes.  Why would I wash ANY clothes if I'm not planning to wear them?) to the political and controversial. He considered himself a liberal (once after the second world war, he was arrested for riding in the back of a bus with his black soldier friends) but still found a way to upset blacks, gays, Native Americans, and others at times. Always he would return in a following week to apologize. I guess if you're going to give your opinion 1097 times you'll make some mistakes.
He began his writing career writing for Stars and Strips during WW II. A pacifist and opposed to the war, he was drafted. He talked his way into a job as a reporter. He received numerous awards for his reports, including the Silver Star for reporting under fire. After being among the first Americans to see the Nazi concentration camps, he rethought his pacifist views and came to believe that some wars could be justified.
He worked until age 92, never afraid to have an opinion but also never afraid to change his opinion.
There were times when I, and I believe others, would watch 60 Minutes just to catch Andy.
Mr Rooney, we will surely miss your wit.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sarah and Meagan, of the Rutland Nadlers

I'm writing this blog while on remote location.  Michelle and I drove up to Rutland, VT to spend the evening with my sister and two of our nieces.  I sorta promised them I'd mention them in a blog.  Sarah is 16 and Meagan is 13.  My sister's other two children, Anna and Andrew are away at college.  Actually, Andrew is in Jacksonville, FL right now for a convention of Business Honor Society Students.
Michelle and I are on vacation this week.  We have both worked at the same places for long enough to get several weeks off each year.  Although we'd love to travel to exotic places on all our vacations our time off exceeds our travel budget.  I'm not complaining, in this time of decreasing workplace benefits I'm glad we still have our vacation time.  I'm also glad we are now both in unions so we have a say in those benefits.
It's great to get up here and see my sister and nieces before winter sets in and travel up north turns into an "iffy" adventure.
Mary's a single mom, with 2 in college and 2 at home, since Ira lost his battle to cancer, so they don't get to dine out a lot. We went out to a trendy downtown Rutland restaurant called "Roots-the Restaurant" which features locally grown food and an extensive gluten free menu, important because all the kids have ciliac, a gluten allergy.
We had a great visit, it was fun to watch the girls react to the food choices, especially the Shrimp Ceviche!
At times I can be obsessive about things.  OK, OK, I can hear the sarcastic "no, not you John" remarks.  But even I realize the importance of balance, a time to work hard and a time to rest.  Stopping, stepping back, getting a fresh perspective, resting from our battles, can invigorate us.
Getting away from work is good.  Getting out of town is nice.  Visiting with family is priceless.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Negotiations update

I get asked all the time how negotiations are going. I'm glad people are interested.
In the weeks preceding negotiations your committee spent night after night preparing a complete contract proposal. We presented this at our first negotiation session on September 6.
Since then management has given us counter proposals on about 1/3 of the contract, mostly on "nuts and bolts" issues, dealing with the relationship between the union and the hospital.
On another night we gave a power point presentation on our wages proposal. This can be viewed at Management has not yet responded to this or any of our wage or benefit issues.

People also ask me, do you think management will give us "you fill in the blank?"
Management will give us nothing!
Let me repeat myself.
Management will give us nothing!
We will get the contract we are willing to fight for.

Why do I say this?
First: management feels it's their job to give in as little as possible.
Second: History.
If you were here when Wellspring Consulting came to town I ask you to remember back. With the loss of certification pay, longevity pay, shift differential decrease, wellness and sick days loss, change in insurance coverage, and on and on, how much did you lose? For some it was as much as $8000!
Now remember one more thing, that was not a one time loss, that was each and every year, taken from you and your family.
If you came to Backus after Wellspring consider this, you lost the potential for the above income. Now multiply that times the number of years you will work. That could be a mortgage payment or a child's education.
If you are are a manager, ask yourself, is turnover in my department higher or lower since Wellspring? How many fellow managers have you seen "walked out"?
Since Wellspring what has happened to senior management? They have done well, with wage and benefit increases as high as 28%/year.

If we will only get what we are willing to fight for, what can we do?
Your committee is not without resources. You will see them used in the coming months in an effort to show management that it is in their interest to work with us.
At times we will ask your help in these efforts. Know that your committee will lead the way.
For now, come to negotiations whenever you can. Our numbers are our strength. I thank you for your support. Our next negotiation is Nov. 14th, this time at the Courtyard Marriott in Norwich.
We took a giant step in May but the struggle is not over.
Our goal is worth fighting for, a better Backus Hospital for our patients, our families, and our community.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

When it snows in October!

I woke Sunday morning to no power. Seems like we just got over hurricane Irene with it's 7 day outage. Now, a snowstorm in October?
Unusual weather for unusual times.
If you had asked a year ago if we'd have a hurricane knocking out power for a week or a snowstorm in October, most would have laughed. Similarly, had you asked if Backus nurses would be sitting at the negotiations table, most would have laughed.

“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” -Robert Francis Kennedy

We started a year ago, talking in small groups. In May we formed a local. Now we sit at the negotiations table.
How did it happen?
We dreamed things that never were and said why not.
Why not a hospital that puts patients before profits?
Why not a hospital that treats patients and employees with respect?
Why not a hospital that engages patients, employees, and the community in decision making?
We asked "why not?" and then set out to answer the question.
The road ahead is not smooth, change will not come easy or fast, but it will come.
It will come because we have the strength, courage and will to ask why not.
It took 118 years of Backus history for this to happen. I'm sure some thought it would only happen when pigs flew or when hell froze over. Maybe some even said, "when we have snowstorms in October."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sometimes, we do make a difference

The other day, after yet another frustrating shift, I gave blood at a bloodmobile at the hospital.
After donating I sat in the canteen to have a drink before driving home and the volunteer asked me if I worked in the ER. She said "I was in on Sunday with my husband, he had a heart attack." Not knowing how he had made out I wasn't sure how to respond. Then she said, "You were all so kind and did such a great job, he ended up going to Yale and getting 3 stents, he came home Tuesday."
A breath of relief from me. I thanked her and we talked about it.
I think I remember the case. It wasn't too busy at the time and we had enough help to provide the resources needed at the moment. This is when we are at our best in the ED.
We see enough chest pain to be well practiced. If we have enough staff available it is like a symphony. Techs, medics, nurses, doctors, xray,registration, unit coordinator, all working simultaneously in harmony.
In 15 minutes we can have the patient undressed, on the monitor and oxygen, aspirin and nitro given, chest xray done, 2 IV lines, blood to the lab, a troponin done in the ED (a cardiac specific blood test), history and medications entered into the record, a STEMI kit with life saving meds started if appropriate and Life Star ready to fly. During this time someone will be comforting explaining to the patient and family.
This is what happens when you have the needed resources, experience, and practice.
Truly it is the ED at it's best.
It is why we come back day after day and put up with the abuse we do, because sometimes, what we do really makes a difference.
At times like this I am proud of what I do and proud of my coworkers.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rabies and Afib (study shows no link)

Not long ago I wrote a blog about a patient who came in in rapid Afib, a rapid irregular heart rhythm.
Lisa Currier, sent me the following email.
"Rabid Afib- a rapid, irregular heart rhythm characterized by foaming at the mouth".
You see, I had written "rabid" not rapid.
I've admitted before that spelling is not a strong point for me. In nursing school my advisor said I was going to be a good nurse but that if my spelling didn't improve I wouldn't get the credit I deserve because people would look at my charting and go????????
Computerized charting, with it's many check off boxes has helped. Spell check has been a godsend. However, "rabid", being a legitimate word, isn't picked up by spell check.
I want to thank Lisa for pointing out my error. It allowed me to go back and correct my mistake and also showed me someone was paying attention to what I type. I'm glad that I have friends like Lisa who are comfortable enough to kid me about my mistakes. What God didn't give me in spelling ability He made up for in the ability to laugh at myself.
Also, and very importantly, I want to assure you that we have seen no increase in the number of cardiac patients presenting with rabies. The last thing we need is a bunch of worried people showing up with palpitations and looking for rabies vaccine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nursing shortage

For a moment I'd like to share some thoughts on the nursing shortage. There are many reasons that have been studied, the aging workforce of baby boomers beginning to retire, more opertunities for women in the work force than previous generations, a shortage of educators. These and others have been studied exhaustively.
What I'd like to address is something that I believe has not been given enough attention. Perhaps nowhere is the shortage as severe as at the bedside.
Because bedside nursing is hard!
Bedside nurses work under extreme stress, physical and emotional, hour after hour, day after day, without lunch breaks, without bathroom breaks, with little control over their practice. They are subjected to abuse from patients, families, and doctors, and administration. It's no wonder so many leave the bedside for other work. Because of their unique skill set they are recruited to management, teaching, consulting and more.
They are encouraged to further their education to higher degrees, a worthy goal, but then they are taken away from the bed side. A nurse enters the profession, works their tail off, continues their schooling, and is rewarded with a job that takes them away from the patients, with increased pay, time for lunch and bathroom, better parking and other perks, control over other nurse's practice, ect.
One big problem,
who's going to take care of the patients?
What can be done?
First, we must elevate the status of the bedside nurse. There is a similar thing happening with doctors. There are so many advantages to being a specialist that we lack primary care. The bedside nurse and the primary care physician should considered the top of their professions.
The bedside nurse should be the highest paid, they should have control over their practice, they should get any perks, they should be staffed to allow breaks.
Crazy ideas?
What's crazy is our treatment of the bedside nurse. If we do not change our way of thinking and acting there will be no one left to do the actual work of caring for the patients.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

The Tea Party movement, the Arab Spring, the Wisconsin state capital, Occupy Wall Street, they all have something in common.  They are all populist movements.  In all of them the common man and woman is speaking out, no shouting out, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!
The worldwide economic downturn has magnified a problem that has long been there.  It's like autumn leaves, that when stressed by cooler nights and shorter days, lose the chlorophyll that makes them green and allows the underlying colors that have been there all summer long to show through.
There is a wide gap between the haves and the have nots. The 1% and the 99%.
This spring the people of northern Africa and the Middle East said ENOUGH! 
The people of Wisconsin and Ohio said ENOUGH!
Even the nurses of Backus Hospital said ENOUGH! 
Enough to the CEOs getting 28% salary increases while we had pay and benefits slashed, our LPNs dismissed,  and our patients diverted to other hospitals, held over 24 hours in the ED and PACU due to poor staffing, and their peanut butter taken away.
AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka states it this way: 
"Occupy Wall Street has captured the imagination and passion of millions of Americans who have lost hope that our nation's policymakers are speaking for them. We support the protesters in their determination to hold Wall Street accountable and create good jobs.    We are proud that today on Wall Street, bus drivers, painters, nurses and utility workers are joining students and homeowners, the unemployed and the underemployed to call for fundamental change.  Across America, working people are turning out with their friends and neighbors in parks, congregations and union halls to express their frustration – and anger -- about our country's staggering wealth gap, the lack of work for people who want to work and the corrupting of our politics by business and financial elites.  The people who do the work to keep our great country running are being robbed not only of income, but of a voice.  It is time for all of us—the 99 percent—to be heard. 
We will open our union halls and community centers as well as our arms and our hearts to those with the courage to stand up and demand a better America."

AFT president Randi Weingarten said:
"All over this country, there are young people who have done everything that was asked of them—they went to school, worked hard and prepared to meet their responsibilities as they pursue their dreams.
We need to listen to what the individuals camped out in Liberty Plaza for Occupy Wall Street—and those marching in the streets from Boston to Denver to Los Angeles—have to say. And then we need to get serious as a nation about working together to create economic opportunities for all Americans, including young people, so we can get our country back on the right track."

I stand with the Occupy Wall St movement.  It has a vitality that the working man and women have been waiting for.  The movement has been said to be lacking leadership, I disagree.  It is a new form of leadership, a leadership that says I'm here in the trenches with you brother and sister.  Movements like we see in Wisconsin, Ohio, Norwich, New York, and across our country have shown what is possible when working men and women come together and say ENOUGH!
In the halls of Backus  and in the streets of New York we strive for the same goals, a voice for the 99% of Americans who work hard each day to make this country great.

Be proud of what you have accomplished so far, you are the Backus Federation of Nurses!
You stand up together, proudly advocating for yourself, your patients, your families, and your community.  And you are not alone, you are part of the 99%.

I urge you to use the voice you now have.  Get involved in your union.  Come to meetings whenever you can. Talk to the leadership and liaisons about your concerns.  Register and vote in the upcoming elections, I guarantee you, the 1% will.

This movement has been called a democratic awakening. 
Let's not watch it, let's live it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Brandii Grace, Advocate for the Worker

I met Brandii Grace this summer in Washington DC. We were invited, along with David Linton, a college professor from New York, by our national union AFT and the AFL-CIO to speak before the National Labor Relations Board and the AFL-CIO about our experiences in organizing our union locals.

Brandii is an accomplished "game designer", she designs and develops video games. She is also a highly respected teacher of this craft.

I know her as a young, energetic unionist who when she met resistance in organizing her school did not back down but instead fought back and now speaks out for others. She has started a blog to help others more effectively assert their rights. I have places a link to the right, "From the Trenches" and I'll let Brandii tell you more....

In the beginning of 2010, I was the leader for a union movement of the faculty at the Los Angeles Film School. Over the course of a month, we did everything necessary to file for a union election. During that same month, I was promoted, threatened, suspended, put on probation, and fired. It was a busy month.

Before this whole thing began, I was actually anti-union. Being raised by my grandmother in a single parent household, we were terribly stressed when she unfairly lost her job due to a flawed union policy. I grew up thinking unions were bad and caused families to struggle the way mine did.

Now I know the truth: unions are not bad, but they do require good leadership. A bad or ineffective leader will create an ineffective union. In part, I have started this blog in the hopes of creating better union leaders.

My experiences have taught me a lot about unions, unionizing, and the government policies intended to protect our right to unionize. While I believe I did the right thing, and would do it all again if necessary, there are lots of things I wish I had known before I started. This blog is about sharing the lessons I've learned and the stories that taught them to me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The bare necessities

Recently I cared for a patient who came to the ED in rapid afib (an irregular heartbeat). We started them on a cardizem IV drip to slow the rate. It work but they started to have short pauses in their heartbeat so, after consulting with the doctor, we stopped the drip.
I stayed close to the patient and about 5 minutes later their heart stopped and they passed out.
I called for help and was just about to do my first chest compression when they gasped, came to, and had a heart beat, and a nice rythm at that!

The pause lasted 6-10 seconds, it felt like 6-10 minutes!

It was yet another reminder of what an amazing thing the human body is. The heart basically "rebooted" itself. It was beating irregular, it stopped.......paused.......and started again, this time in a regular rythm.
It's also a reminder of how fragile human life is.
This patient had no heartbeat for 6-10 seconds!
Some people would classify that as deceased. And yet, this patient lives.
I work in a job that reminds me daily to be amazed at life and that we are not guaranteed a certain number of years or a certain number of heartbeats. The only guarantee is that someday our heart will stop.
We seek a balance, to make a difference in the world while at the same time not becoming enslaved to the things of this world.
As the great philosopher Baloo said, we "look for the bare necessity" of life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thank you LPNs

This is my second attempt at writing this blog entry. The first attempt was OK. It was full of newspaper quotes from the past year. But it didn't capture the feelings I am experiencing.
You all already know the facts.

In January, management announced that the 15 LPNs of Backus Hospital would be eliminated by the end of the year.  They were promised that management would do everything it could to find them other jobs in the hospital.  Since then, some of them have found their own new jobs.

On September 30, the 10 LPNs still at Backus were called into meetings and, one by one, they were walked out.

They were not allowed to return to the floor to say goodbye to their coworkers, there was no retirement tea, they were not even allowed to retrieve their own belongings from their lockers.

After up to 40 years of dedicated service they were, as on newspaper heading stated, "put on the shelf".


Nursing is not a job, it is a way of life.  Being a nurse does not end at the door, we carry it with us to the market and the ball field.  When someone needs us, we are there. Our patients are not "customers", they are as our children, our siblings, our parents and grandparents.


Some people don't get this.


That is the problem.

Kathy Claussen RN sent an open letter to the New London Day and it really captures what we are feeling.

To my friends and colleagues at Backus Hospital, I'm sorry we didn't get to say goodbye. When I came to work you were gone. I can only imagine how you feel. I feel sad, angry, embarrassed, helpless.

I appreciated working beside you all these years. The dedication, compassion, loyalty, competence and professionalism you exhibited is unsurpassed in my eyes.

I will miss you all. I already do. You all deserve the best in your next endeavors

To all the LPNs of Backus, past and present, God bless your for your dedicated service to the hospital and your patients know that we love you, we respect you, and that no decision can erase what you have done and what you have meant to all of us.

God speed, your are our colleagues and you are in our hearts.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Understanding our Role

A few years ago I took over the household chore of vacuuming after my wife said her doctor felt she should no longer do it because of some cervical disc issues.  I never checked with her doctor about the validity of this claim but I figured fair is fair, she had done it for the first 25 or so years, it was probably my turn.I do have one rule, I won't do it when she's home.  The reason is that she micromanages my work and I can never do it well enough.  It's not her fault, she has this obsessive-compulsive streak at times.
I used to feel sorry for her about this and to be honest, slightly superior, till I realized that I too can be obsessive-compulsive. (Just not about cleaning).  I first recognized it in myself, after therapy and joining a support group, as it pertains to my adult children.  They were making choices that I felt were not in their best interest and I could not stop myself from interfering in their lives.  I'm getting better but it remains a struggle and always will be.  I think it's natural for parents to fall into this, but it's not healthy, for the children or the parent.
In my recovery process I have realized that I have always leaned toward being obsessive-compulsive, often in one area of my life at a time.  I have had times when I obsessed over our family budget (whether money was tight or not), running (5 marathons, 1 ultra), school ( up all night before clinicals preparing) and other things.
The past 12 months I have poured myself into this fight for a union at work.  It' a fight worth fighting, the outcome will benefit coworkers and patients now and for years to come.  I could not have continued day after day if I wasn't the way I am.
I'll share a great prayer that helps me:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change:
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

One of the lessons I have learned with my children is that I can lead and teach them by my example, but I cannot choose for them. 
For the past 12 months our organizing committee and now or negotiations committee have led us in our effort to gain a voice at work. Our officers and stewards will one day fill that role.The "wisdom to know the difference" tells me that their role is not to "lead", not "carry".  It is the role of each and every member to become involved and do what we can. 
For those in a leadership role to "carry" the membership would be like me trying to make life choices for my children or my wife trying to micromanage my house cleaning, it just doesn't work.
So, if you notice me bugging you less about coming to negotiations, or becoming otherwise involved, it is not because it has become less important, it is only me trying to do my part and leave your choices in your hands. 
This is not me saying I'm tired, or I'm done fighting.  Ironically, in the past, whenever I have decided to back off and let others decide for themselves, I experience a renewed vitality and energy.  My goal is, and will always be, to fight for a Backus Hospital that puts patients first and respects it's employees.

The question I would like you to ask yourself is this:
What's my goal, what's my role?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Which side are you on?

If you missed the last contract negotiations you missed a great presentation on our wages proposal to management.  We presented it first to our members and then to management.  There were great questions from our members and a great opportunity for conversations with your 18 member negotiating committee. I have included a link to the power point proposal at the right.

This Wednesday, Oct 5, from 5:15 - 10, at the Holiday Inn in Norwich, we will meet again.  Management has promised a response to our proposal.

That should be interesting.

All are invited and encouraged to join us.

We have spent and continue to spend many hours in thoughtful conversations among the committee and with all members on our proposals and hours at the negotiating table with management.

We do it  because we believe in a better Backus Hospital.  We are proud to represent all the RNs.

Your committee is looking for help.  Without your help, the greatest proposals, the most logical arguments, will not get us the contract we deserve.  We know management does not approach these negotiations looking for the most sensible proposal and putting together a contract that does right by the nurses and best serves the patients. 

When I see ten experienced, trusted and loyal nurses walked out - in spite of record high census just before the flu season begins - I know we have a management that doesn't get it.  It makes me realize that it will not be about putting together reasonable positions and asking politely to have them considered.  I know it is about power.  I know we must stand together and say in one clear voice that WE will not accept a contract that holds back our families or our ability to provide the best possible care to our patients.

We are at the table to negotiate and we are ready to be reasonable and helpful but we will not be patient forever.  We want to bargain but we will not beg.   

This is the turning point.

Your committee is ready to lead, but they are nothing without you.

Our strength comes from the unity of our members.  When management sees sees us united that will be our turning point.  That is when we get the contract our hospital needs, the contract our families need, the contract our community needs.

Many have already come out to negotiations, join them!

I know you are busy, I know you have other obligations, I can appreciate that.  Come when you can, come at any time, come for as long or as short as possible.  Children and other family members are welcome.

                                                  Which side are you on?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Finding purpose In life

We are here for a reason, a purpose. Our experiences shape and prepare us. Though the years God has placed people into my life, some to guide and teach, some to give support and understanding, some to assist me, some to inspire, some to give me the opportunity to guide, teach, support, give understanding, assist, inspire. He has led me to every point in my life, prepared me by my experiences.
For instance, I became a nurse at age 44. Prior to that I would not have been ready, but the experiences of my life prepared me to be ready at that time. Often, I had no idea why I needed to experience certain things. Many of them are now clear in retrospect.
I worked many jobs prior to nursing, it gave me a better understanding of the backgrounds of many of my patients.
I went through many layoffs. I experienced both the loss of pay and health insurance many times while trying to raise a young family. It shaped my view of the need for social programs like unemployment insurance. It made me believe that a person should not lose their health insurance because they lose a job through no fault of their own. It made me believe that health care should not depend on ability to pay.
It was during one such layoff that I took part in a federal retraining program and became a CNA. It put me back to work, paying taxes again. I understand how hard CNAs and PCTs work and how they are the backbone of the health system and too often under appreciated for it.
I have suffered through the loss of loved ones but that has helped me understand what a patient's family goes through.
I am blessed with 2 loving sons, but they are on their own life paths, with twists and turns. I have been able to help other parents who are watching their own children struggle.
My experiences have prepared me for certain roles at certain stages of my life. They have given me understanding and strength. They have shaped my beliefs.
Though my life experiences and what I was taught in childhood I have come to believe that we should stand together and support each other, that we should share our talents, our gifts, for the good of all. That if a man has two coats he should give one to the man who has none. I do not know what the future will bring, but I know that if I am open to the experiences that God sends my way, if I go through them with His help and the help of those He places in my life, then I will be ready for what comes next, ready to do his will.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Get involved, make us strong!

Recently I have attended several meetings with management and human resources to act as union representative for member nurses. This is to protect their rights under a 1975 Supreme Court ruling in the case of J. Weingarten, Inc.
These rights have become known as Weingarten Rights and very briefly they state that a union member has the right to representation during an investigatory interview.
There is a much better explanation at weingarten.htm
I urge you to study it.
More recently a couple of these meetings have been scheduled during times I was working, leading one of the involved members to ask if management had my schedule and were trying to make it difficult for me to attend.
While I can't answer the second part of that question, I can guarantee that they have all of our schedules. We are working on these time conflicts and are not without recourse.
It brings up a very important point.
I, nor any other person is the union, WE are the union, almost 450 strong. If one of us in unavailable, another will step in. We are in the beginning phases of training more people to be comfortable as union representatives. Ideally, everyone willing to do so, will be trained, comfortable, and capable. We hope that other members will step up to fill roles that suit them, such as public outreach.
The underlying point is this - our union is strong only to the extent that our members are involved.
We are an organization who's power lies in the members. We will all vote on our contract, bylaws, constitution, and officers.
Our officers will handle the day to day activities, they will lead, but we, the members, will direct.
I know you've heard this before.
Every management says it.
All I can say is, come and see for yourself.
At the latest negotiations we had a discussion with some salary nurses about how we would address their salaries in our wages proposal.
This is how. We will get together as many salary nurses as we can and they will craft a proposal.
Because they are in the best position to do so. Why should someone who doesn't completely understand their issues make decisions for them?
If it makes sense we can have a standing salary RN committee to deal with their specific concerns and we can have other such groups as the needs arise.
Our strength lies in our numbers and level of involvement.
Management derives it's power from the fact that they sign our paychecks.
We derive our power by the strength of our collective membership. If we do not exercise that collective power then we forfeit it.
Get involved, make us strong!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

we got the A team

At negotiations tonight Ole gave our wages power point presentation and he truly, truly rocked!
If there was any doubt that our union, AFT, wasn't a class act, professional organization, is should be now gone.
When I got home I was compelled to send the following letter to Mary MacDonald of AFT in Washington, Sharron Palmer AFT CT president, and Melodie Peters, AFT CT first vice president.
I share it with you.

Mary, Sharron, Melodie,
I have been meaning to write you for awhile and say thank you for the faith you have shown in us and commitment of resources you have sent us.
We realize we got the A team.
Ole Hermanson gave a wages presentation tonight at negotiations that blew management's mind. If they had any doubt that AFT wasn't in a league of our own, it's gone now.
As for Greg Kotecki, I'm glad he's on our side of the table. He goes toe to toe with the best of Jackson Lewis. At the same time he teaches us the nuances of negotiating, be it at the table or hearing room. I myself have successfully represented two members through his teaching.
At the recent AFL-CIO labor council meeting Sharron graciously said we were going to be a great local. We are, and it's because of AFT CT and AFT national.
You gave us great organizers in Ole, Jennifer Benevento, Nickimmy Hayes, Efrain Torres, and Elizabeth Glenn Scott from national, who turned me into a pretty good organizer through her example and instruction.
You sent us Eric Bailey who writes my best quotes and Dan Durant who is helping us reach out to the community and in so doing not only help people but also put a good face on all unions.
Jessica Smith and Ole took care of me in Washington and allowed me to represent our union by telling our story before the labor board. It was truly an honor to do so.
My hope is that the Backus Federation of Nurses lives up to Sharron's prediction and that we become the model of what a local should be. If we do that, we will have started to pay you back for the faith you have shown us.
Again thank you. Ole truly rocked, he truly did.
John Brady
Negotiations Team Member
Backus Federation of Nurses

Ole's presentation will soon be available online at
Being online will be good, but I wish you could have seen it. He really rocked the house!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Learning to Fly!

In a book published in 1970 by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a bird who comes to believe that there is more to life than squabbling for food. He seeks to fly! He seeks to raise flying to a perfect art form and in doing so, to set himself and his fellow gulls free, free of the artificial limitations they have allowed themselves to become subject too. He meets resistance, from the flock and the elders.
" day, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you shall learn that irresponsibility does not pay. Life is the unknown and the unknowable, except that we are put into this world to eat, to stay alive as long we possibly can."
But he persists, he learns How to fly, how to soar! He's set free from his old limitations.
 "How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there's reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!"
He goes about to teach others in the flock, but they resist.
"Why is it," Jonathan puzzled, "that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he'd just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?"
In the end he does reach them and they are set free.
"He spoke of very simple things –that it is right for a gull to fly,that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form. "Set aside," came a voice from the multitude, "even if it be the Law of the Flock?" "The only true law is that which leads to freedom," Jonathan said. "There is no other."
It is a story of a bird learning to fly but it is much more, it is our story.
For so long we tried to survive. Get through the day. Get through the shift. To dream of more would only lead to disappointment. We established a culture of tolerance and acceptance of the way things were.
But the way things are is not the only way! Look what we have done at Backus Hospital in the past year. A small group believed that things could and must get better! They led us, they showed us, they made us believe! We are at that point, we must decide, do we squabble for food or do we fly!
We are the Backus Federation of Nurses! We fly!
How do we do that?
"The trick Fletcher is that we are trying to overcome our limitations in order, patiently, We don't tackle flying through rock until a little later in the program."
We each start where we are.
Not all of us are ready to be out front, not to worry, we have leaders. We start where we are.
We attend negotiations, we attend meetings, we get involved in our communities, we start to stand up for ourselves. When asked to support those who lead us we are there. In time, each in our own time, we will find our voice, we will learn to fly, we will be free.
This is OUR union.
This is our hospital.
This is our community.
This is our state, our country.
It is time for a new culture, a new way of thinking and acting, a time for involvement, a time for freedom, a time to fly!
This Wednesday is our next negotiations.  Join us!  Together we are strong!
We will present our proposals on wages this Wednesday.
October 15 we will partner with the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department in the Lisbon Public Safety Day at Lisbon Landing from 10-2.  It is an opportunity to help our community.  There will be many fire trucks, Lifestar, a live burn demonstration, and more.  Step foreword, help for a few hours, get involved!
I have included a link to the book in case you want to learn to fly.