Saturday, July 30, 2011

Involved and United we are strong

Naomi, a friend who works in LDRP, was "turned in" by a coworker because as she came into work, and still in her street clothes, her tattoos were exposed. She was justifiably upset.
In our department we are reminded often, by email and in person, that we are not "allowed" to have our cell phones with us, even as we watch others on theirs.
What is going on here?
I don't get all the psychological reasons but there seems to be a need for management to keep us down and for us to keep each other down, maybe to make ourselves feel better.
August 3rd will be a historic day at Backus Hospital. For the first time in history, Registered Nurses will sit at a negotiations table with management as equals. Every nurse equal with each other and our collective voice equal with management.
Your bargaining committee has been working long and hard to produce a proposed contract. Now we will present it to management for their consideration. Wednesday is your chance to see it presented. We are asking all members possible to attend, Wednesday, August 3, 5:15-10:30 pm, Holiday Inn, Norwich. You can come for as much or as little of the negotiations as you wish or are able. You can arrived and leave at anytime.
Why? You may ask.
We want you to be involved and informed. Also, the more nurses sitting behind the committee, the more strength we will have.
We understand that some will be unable to attend. On Thursday, August 4, we will be in conference room 1 from 2-7pm to answer questions and hear concerns.
August 20 will be a joint Backus Federation of Nurses/United Way food drive at the Norwich Stop and Shop from 9am-2pm, it's a great opportunity to get involved in your union and community.
August 29 will be our second negotiation session.
The Backus Federation of Nurses is YOUR union It will be as strong as YOU make it.
Get involved.
No one person has to do all the work, but we all have a little part we can play to make our union strong. Management will do their best to divide us because that will weaken us.
Always, always, always, we must stand together, involved and united.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Our leaders should be trusted servants

As I write this it has been a week since my trip to Washington. It went by so quickly that I'm still trying to absorb it all. First, I have a confession, I absolutely loved it! I loved the excitement, the attention, and the respect. I feel a little guilty about it because I hold humility in high regard and I find myself so proud right now. I feel pride personally but also I am proud of our local, our state and national organizations. Second, I am so thankful, both for the opportunity and for the trust of my coworkers. I know that I am a part of small group of nurses other nurses look to for leadership. It is very humbling and it makes me want to work hard so that I deserve your trust. There is a saying “our leaders should be trusted servants”; I hope our committee can embody this as its guiding principal.
All of us have gifts and we are called to share them with others. In the past year I have come to realize some of my gifts. I am grateful for the mentoring and coaching and the trust and opportunity to use them. We all have gifts. They have been given freely to us. We must keep ourselves open to recognizing these gifts and the opportunities to use them for the good of all.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The dawn of a brighter day

One of the problems with American business today, as I see it, is that too much emphasis is placed on the short term to the detriment of the long term health of an organization. What's the return, the profit, the operating margin, the stock dividend, this quarter, this year? There is all this pressure to please the stockholders and the boards. The problem is that what is good for the short term is often not so good for the long term health of the organization.
We are in the process of building an organization, the Federation of Backus Nurses. I feel certain we need to look long term. Ask yourself, where will this local be in 5, 10, 20, or more years. The decisions we make now will determine that.
For me I always go back to the reason we organized. We wanted a voice, so we could advocate for our patients, for our families, for ourselves and for the hospital, OUR hospital.
We have now gained a voice, at the hospital, in the state, in the country.
We are heard.
With time our voice will grow stronger and we will learn how to use it. Even now, I feel more empowered to speak my mind if I disagree with what a doctor or an administrator says without fear of retribution. I have you all to back me up, I have AFT CT, AFT njational, and the AFL-CIO to back me up. I am no longer "out there alone", none of us are.
Some of the things I know are important to our profession might not happen by the time I retire, but what a legacy to leave the younger nurses if we can hand off to them a strong, united local! A local based on the idea that what's good for all the members is good for the individual.

That my friends is what solidarity is all about.

That is why we did all this hard work.
We already have a culture at Backus of "short term gains" and the "me, me, me". Let us now work towards something better than that. It has started and will continue, our better future is within our grasp. All we have to do is reach for it. All we have to do is show up. That's our part.
Our first bargaining session will be August 3 at 5:30 at the Holiday Inn in Norwich. We will sit across the table from the management team.
Sit with us!
Show that it's a new day at Backus, a brighter day, a better future!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Washington DC

Monday was an unbelievable day!
I testified in Washington at the National Labor Relations Board in support of proposed changes that would decrease unnecessary delays to a union vote.
I told them that after 17 years at Backus I felt I could no longer take care of my patients or family properly and how, after discussing our concerns with one another, we began organizing with AFT CT. I told them management fought us all the way, delayed the vote, and used that time to create a high pressure anti-union atmosphere. I told how they gave us only vague contact info on bargaining unit nurses, how they cornered us to express their views. I told them I supported the proposed changes so that other nurses would not have to wait for their rights to be recognized.
David Linton, professor at Marymount Manhattan College, also spoke for AFT.
Then I was interviewed by the Washington Times and Union News Service.
We walked over to the national headquarters of the AFL-CIO for a reception. David, myself, and Brandii Grace, a film teacher from California, were introduced. Brandii was fired during an effort by an AFT affiliate but has a strong case and will win.
They asked me to speak. I said how unbelievable this experience had been. A year ago I wasn't even thinking union! I told them how we banded together at Backus, stood strong, and prevailed.I told them I was taught that if a man has two coats he should give one to the man who is without. I agreed with another speaker that the middle class and unions are under attack but that today, in Connecticut, there are 425 new union members, proud affiliates of AFT and the AFL-CIO.
When I finished, they stood to applaud.
I was also taped for an AFT /AFL-CIO video.
I did all this Monday, but in reality, YOU DID ALL THIS!  When this all started I knew we could win because I looked around the room and saw nurses who I trusted and respected saying they would stand together.
I may have been the one with the sweaty palms before the NLRB, and the one getting the applause, but it was all of us at Backus, along with AFT and our sister locals across the state, who put me there, without you, I would not have been there.
  I knew I had the support of my team back home and that is what got me willing to go but when I got there I met working people from across the country all with the same purpose and all standing together in solidarity.  We are a strong group with many individuals ready, willing, and able to step forward when needed. Monday was my turn, but we all have had or will have our turns.
As long as we put the good of our local above our varied individual interests, we will continue to remain strong and united.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our first meeting

Monday night we had our first meeting with the management bargaining team.
It lacked some of the excitement of knocking on doors and having conversations with nurses or of turning out the vote and the count after. It was business like, but it is building a foundation for our union.
About 15 members of our bargaining committee sat across the table from 2 members from the management team. They were cordial. We presented proposed ground rules for the negotiations. We discussed them, across the table, and privately in caucus. We negotiated and came to an agreement. Management made a commitment to bargain in good faith, as both sides are required by law. We are happy to accept their commitment and will plan to match it.
We wanted negotiations at the hospital so that nurses could more easily come and see how things are going. Management rejected our proposal. They did agree to open negotiations.
This means, all nurses are welcome to come to all negotiation sessions. We are hoping nurses will come to as many of the sessions as possible. You don't need to stay for the entire session. You can come check it out and listen as long as you can. The bargaining committee believes this is important for two reasons.

First, we want an informed membership. It's important for every nurse to hear first hand where things are at. Second, we want management to see our strength and unity. The greater the number sitting behind us, the stronger we are at the table.

We are calling for a large turnout for negotiations, especially the first, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, August 3, 5:30 PM at the Holiday Inn in Norwich.
As I said, come for all of it or part of it, but please come. Remember this contract WILL apply to ALL nurses at Backus. This is your union.
It is as strong as you make it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Letting Go

Did you ever have one of those nights when you couldn't sleep?  I had one last week.  I fell asleep just fine, but within an hour I was wide wide awake and unable to fall back to sleep!
Finally, I got up, had something to eat, read the paper, but still; wide awake!
Then I remember what worked one other time. 
I tried to stay awake!
So I went back to bed and tried to stay awake, just relaxed and tried NOT to sleep. I quickly fell asleep and slept soundly till morning.
Many things in my life are like this for me.  If I try too hard, if I struggle to make something happen, it gets harder.  But if I relax and go with the flow; good results!
 Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke. Luke, trust me. ... The spirit of Obi Wan Kenobi
Star Wars, eastern religions and philosophies, western religions, native cultures, all tell us to let go, to trust in a force greater than ourselves, to trust in other people, and yet...
I want to let go, I want to have that faith. I see the results when I do, but something holds me back.  What holds me back is the what ifs.....
What if my family, my patients, my fellow nurses, my friends, make poor decisions, what if they don't take care of themselves? And yet I must trust in other people, I must trust in a Force greater than I can understand, I must have faith, there really is no other choice.
My best writing comes when I let go, when I let ideas flow, when I let my emotions out.
So does my best living.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I believe that all human beings have a responsibility to treat each other with respect and fairness.
Nurses have a responsibility to do the same for their patients and to advocate for them at the bedside, in the boardroom, at the statehouse and in Washington. We also have a responsibility to our profession, to promote the recruitment, retention, and development of good nurses.
Union nurses share all these responsibilities and also have the responsibility to advocate for the financial wellness of the institution they work in, nurses at other institutions, and members of other unions.
Union nurses are in the position to influence pay, benefits, working conditions and be the voice in the workplace, all critical in the recruitment and retention of good nurses. We are able to influence state and national healthcare decisions, to have a say in the financial wellness of our institutions and healthcare as a whole.
Our leadership will also have the added responsibility to our membership. To make recommendations that keep all the above responsibilities at the forefront. To act as advocates and spokespersons for our members. To be answerable, always, to the members.
For the time being the leadership of the Backus nurses union is our bargaining team. We have been meeting regularly and preparing for negotiations. We have the assistance of our AFT CT staff, but the decisions being made are ours.
Ultimately, the final decisions will be yours, each and every member gets a vote.
Soon we will begin meeting with the management team. I urge you to speak with the bargaining team about any concerns and to attend as many of the negotiation sessions as possible.
We all have responsibilities, let us keep them forefront in our minds.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Steve is a nurse who I work with in the ER. We sometimes call him Big Steve because he stands 6 foot 8 inches with broad shoulders and massive arms. One time we all went to a conference. Steve arrived late and stood in a doorway off to the side of the speaker. His body filled the door opening. I could see that he caught the eye of the speaker, who did his best to continue his talk. After a few more minutes the speaker stopped, mid sentence, looked at Steve, and said "You are a MOUNTAIN of a man."
Steve grinned.
Steve's idea of a workout is to go to the gym and lift heavy weights. He does this daily and occasionally competes in Strongman competitions.
His large size is matched by his large heart, gentle nature and soft speech. Before coming to the ER he worked
with psychiatric children. I could see him doing that.
The ladies of the ER love him. They say he's the best hugger.
And he has some great one liners!
We were going through a period of extreme busyness at work and many of us were missing lunch. Because Steve likes to eat last, he was missing the most meals.
So our boss comes to him and reminds him to try to take lunch because she has to account for all the extra time on the books. Steve, towering above her, takes a long, long, pause and then very quietly says, "Sue, do I look like I don't like to eat?"
To say that Steve is a nurse in my department is a huge understatement. He is my good friend. I confide in him daily. Even when I get busy and neglect him, as I did when I got so busy helping form our union, he is there for me when I need him. He is truly a rock in my life, a mountain of a man.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summertime and the living is easy

Summertime and the living is easy, so says the old song.
School is out, families head for the beach or the mountain, hopefully we recharge.
Everyday life can be so consuming, so busy, and go by so fast. We need to stop, to step back, to examine the direction we're going in, to rest and renew, to reconnect with people, with nature, with God.

We do a poor job of it in this country. Our holdover Puritan work effort makes us feel guilty if we do.
I confess I am as guilty as anyone else. Especially in the last 9 months I, and many others, have been go, go, go. As if being a spouse, parent, grandparent, child of a parent, and nurse were not enough, we became union organizers too!
Every one of those roles is important, and worthy of our time and energy, but ......

Find some time to kick back. Don't feel guilty about it, it is vital to our well being. All our responsibilities will wait, and if we're rested, we'll handle them better.