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.