Friday, March 30, 2012

Fighting for Respect

There was something different in the air last night at negotiations.  I wasn't sure what it was at first but now I know, it was RESPECT.

After the big blow up on Tuesday, I didn't know what to expect.  The words and the tone of voice were just different, like equals across the table. (What a novel idea)

It reminds me of the one fight I was in in school.  We had one kid in class who was always getting picked on.  He was the only one in class smaller than I.  One day he was getting picked on again and I just couldn't take it anymore.  Anyway, after the fight I was treated differently by the kids in the class, I guess because I had the courage to stand up when they didn't.

Now, don't get me wrong, management's proposals are still garbage. Their latest is 0.5%, 0.75%, and 1% wage increases and insurance cost share increases of 4%, 4.5%, and 5% for full time and 6%, 6.75% and 7.5% for part time. 

I think it means more when I give a real life example.

Many of you know Casie, who works in the emergency department.  She is a wonderful nurse and person.  She, like many nurses, has three jobs, a nurse, a mother and wife.  Her husband works full time, Casie provides the insurance, and she does her best to be there for her family.  She's active in her church and she and her husband run the food building at the youth football program.  She works 28 hours a week so that she can raise a family.

By my calculations, at the end of 3 years she will have:
increased wages of $22.12/week,
increased insurance deduction of $143.30/week,
or a net paycheck decrease of $121.18/week
or $6301.36/year!

Or about 1% of our CEO's salary.

Not for profit Backus had a profit of $14.9million last year, I guess they're shooting for more next year.

By law, the bargaining team must promote for ratification whatever contract we negotiate.  We cannot negotiate a contract and then advise our members to vote against it.

I ask you, how can I recommend a contract that steals $6301.36 a year from Casie and others?

For the second time in a row we had a huge turnout of members last night.  Management was counting.  A fair contract will not be won at the negotiation table, it will be won by the full seats behind us. 

So thank you and keep it up, we are nearing the finish of this long marathon and you have been great.  Find that one last burst on energy and we'll get a fair contract that we deserve, one that will keep good nurses at Backus, and that will benefit our patients and our families.

This Monday, April 2, we will hold informational picketing at the hospital in from 7:30 am till 8:00 pm. This is not a work stoppage, it is an opportunity to reach out to the community to both ask and thank them for their support.  You should report to work at your scheduled time and give the great care you always do.  If you are not working, or before or after work, you should be on the line.  We have 2 more negotiations scheduled, April 9 and April 17, at the Courtyard Marriott, this time starting at 6 pm, you should be there if you are interested in your contract.

There is no question of whether we will sign a contract, the question is, what will it look like?  The answer is, we will get the contract we fight for. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Negotiation update: We stand up, talks break down

Did you ever have one of those times in your life when you were getting pushed around and pushed around and finally you couldn't take it anymore? It took a lot to get you to stand up for yourself but you finally did.

For the nurses of Backus hospital, that moment came last night.

For years we have been bullied, intimidated, and pushed around and last night we said,


I remember last May 11. After months of organizing for our constitutional right for a free vote on whether we wanted to unionize, a campaign filled with anti union literature, scare tactics, intimidation, and humiliation, we voted as a group to join together. When the vote total was announced, an understandable cheer went up from the nurses present. I remember the reaction of Tom Gibbons, the hospital lawyer. He yelled out at the top of his voice, "clear them out of here, this is a hospital!"

What an arrogant statement.
(We were in the bottom floor of a closed Medical Office Building, no where near any patients)

Since negotiations started in July we have tolerated their late arrivals, never being prepared, offering proposals and refusing to put them in writing, and just a total disrespect. Over and over Gibbons has spoken in demeaning tones. He has interrupted our negotiator, Greg Kotecki, and refused to discuss certain subjects all the while insisting we discuss his subjects.

Sometimes our committee has wanted to lash out at the management at the table in response to their disrespect but Greg has counseled us wisely saying "sometimes you have think something without saying it" in an effort to move forward and focus on the important topics of the night.

Last night they came to the table and offered us 0.5% wage increase/year while holding to their insurance proposal that would increase a family plan for a 28 hour/week nurse to $301/week by the end of year 3.

It was insulting.

We worked up a counter proposal (in writing), and before presenting it, Greg asked for a clarification on their 403b proposal. It was clear that Gibbons did not understand his own proposal and when Greg tried to work him through it, Gibbons interrupted. Greg told him that he was speaking but Gibbons would not stop, continuing on and in a disrespectful and demeaning tone of voice.

Finally, Greg could take no more. He stood up for himself and us and demanded respect and when Gibbons would offer none...

Greg told him to get out of our room!

When Gibbons and management left the members in attendance cheered. The committee feels this was long overdue. We will not be pushed around. Backus has shown nothing but disrespect towards the nurses, fighting us even on our chosen Local name.

There can be only one future at Backus, one with mutual respect between management and nurses, if their lawyer cannot provide this, then maybe he needs to be replaced.

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's time

It's 1912, Salvatore works in a textile mill in a small New England town.  He works hard to support his family.  He hopes to be able to afford to send his children to school so that they can have a better life.

It's 2012, Sally works in a hospital in a small New England town.  She works hard to support her family.  She hopes to be able to afford to send her children to college so that they can have a better life.

The mill that Salvatore works in sets his pay, they also own his house and the company store, so they set his rent and the prices at the store.  It seems he can't get ahead.

The hospital that Sally works in sets her pay, they are also self insured, they deduct from her paycheck and put it into their account.  They set the deductibles and copays when she and her family are treated at her hospital.  It seems she can't get ahead.

The man who owns the mill that Salvatore works in lives in Boston.  He has someone manage the mill.  The manager lives in a big house, high above the town, he makes what 10 of Salvatore's coworkers makes, even though he never risked a penny of his own.

The hospital that Sally works in is owned by the community.  It is managed by a board who have hired a CEO.  The CEO makes what 10 of the nurses that Sally works with make, even though he and the board have never risked a penny of their own.

Robert Kennedy said, "Some men see things that are and ask why, I see things that are not, and ask why not."

Perhaps it's time to ask.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Can't afford to be sick

Someone once said that our strength comes through our pain.

I thought about this when I read a Face Book post by a friend.  She's a nurse in the emergency department who works 28 hours/week.  She has a family with school age children and a husband who works full time.  She is active in church and social events, helps out with all the sports and activities that her children partake in.  She's someone I go to as a moral compass.  Sometimes I get so passionate about a cause that I don't trust my own judgement, she can give me perspective on it, keep me on the right path.

She carries the health insurance for the family.  She posted that she is deeply concerned about the current contract proposal before us.  It would increase her insurance premium to $301/week by 2014 with no increase in wages. She worries that this would force her out of her 28 hour/week schedule into full time work and how this would effect her family life and her children's lives. 

I ask myself, how could I ask her to support such a contract?  How could I ask her to stay at Backus if such a contract went through?

If we accepted such a contract I believe it would be the insurance offered to all Backus employees.  How could our people in the kitchen, in housekeeping, etc, who make less than the nurses, afford to stay on the insurance?  They would have to try to get on state insurance or go without.  This is already happening at other hospitals.  The very people who care for the sick can't afford to be sick.

I know that insurance costs are out of control.  I know change must come.  What I say is this, don't put all the burden on the backs of the people doing the care taking, while others make $600,000/year or more. Work with us and we will find a solution.

It's painful, let's hope our strength come from this pain.  Let's stand together because together we are strong.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Negotiation update 3/22/12

On Monday, when Governor Malloy came to support us at our rally, he said we should meet around the clock to get a contract.

On Wednesday, we met.  At 9:30 pm, management was ready to pack it up.  We kept them there till 10:30 by working up and delivering a comprehensive counter proposal on all outstanding issues.  They said they needed to look it over and would get back to us next week. Compare this to recent sessions where we have been meeting until 2:00 or 3:00 am.

Management had offered an increase in insurance premiums of 15 % for full time and 30% for part time nurses over the life of the contract. (3 years)  Because that is an increase in our share of the total cost, and because the total cost of insurance rises each year, it means that a full time nurse's premium for a family plan would increase from $56.65/week to $150.69/week and for a part time nurse the would be from $113.30/week to $301.49/week!

Couple that with their proposal on wages.

Initially they proposed to continue the way they have always done, they decide each year what if any raise to give.  Wednesday, they proposed to tie raises into increases in medicare reimbursement rates, which are scheduled to decline!  This may be worse than their initial proposal!

A part time nurse would see an insurance premium increase of $301.49/week with no guarantee of any increase in salary over the next 3 years!

How can that nurse, with a family and a mortgage, afford to stay at Backus?

I am involved because I see turnover of nurses as a bad thing for patient outcome.  We will never have experienced nurses at Backus if we cannot retain them.  Experienced nurses are safer nurses!

It is a patient safety issue!

We feel so strongly that we gave them the needed notice last night that we will be holding an informational picket at the hospital on April 2nd, 7:30 am - 8:00 pm.  This is not a work stoppage. Nurses scheduled to work should do so.  This is an opportunity to take our concerns for patient safety to the people of Norwich that we serve.

If you agree with us, join us. 

We meet next Tuesday and Thursday at the Courtyard Marriott at 5:30.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rally for our first contract

I was going to wait until morning to write this but I can't sleep.  This afternoon was so exciting that I feel like I've drank 10 cups of coffee. 

The Backus Federation of Nurses rally for a first contract was this afternoon.  You can read the reports in the papers, but about 200-250 people rallied outside the hospital and demanded that the hospital stop stalling and start negotiating in good faith.

Union members and labor leaders form across the state came to support the Backus nurses.  We were joined by leaders and members of several non profit groups and politicians. 

One of those politicians was our governor.

He called the hospital out on the way they have treated us and said, “All you’re asking for is to be treated fairly, for negotiations to meet appropriate timelines, for a decent wage and decent benefits.”

The support of the local community, the union members, the union leaders and the politicians has been overwhelming.  Among those who spoke were Governor Dan Malloy, John Olson, president of Connecticut AFL-CIO  and Lori Pelletier, Secretary-Treasurer, Wayne Burgess, president of the Southeastern CT Central Labor Council, Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, Melodie Peters, first vice presidnet of AFT Connecticut, and Ken Delacruz, president of the Metal Trades Council at Electric Boat (and husband of Backus nurse organizer, Sue Delacruz.)

I feel a special connection to our AFT locals. The presidents of the three L+M locals and the Danbury Nurses all attended to support us.  Thank you Stephanie Lancaster, Lisa D'Abrosca, Harry Rodriguez, and Mary Consoli. Harry did a great job speaking and firing up the crowd.

Our own Michelle Hayes, from LDRP, gave a heartfelt speech about what it means to be a nurse and a coworker.

We strive for a hospital on the right path again.  A path that respects it's workers and that puts patients before profits. 

Is that too much to ask?

We want to work in a cooperative partnership with management.  I urge them to come to the table prepared to negotiate in good faith. We are strong and will not be deterred.

We aren't going away.

We've added a negotiation session this Wednesday night, at the Courtyard Marriott, exit 82.  It starts at 5:30 pm and may run all night.  All are invited and encouraged to attend for any part of it, come and go as you wish.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Backus Federation of Nurses welcomes Governor Malloy to Norwich. (again)

“I support the right for workers to form a union,” Malloy told the nurses. “There is a process under way at Backus, and I will respect the outcome of that process.”
So said Governor Dan Malloy when he met us last March 9, 2011, less than two weeks after we had gone public and a full two months before we voted.
30 Backus nurses met in a large room. We formed chairs into a circle, we hung AFT union banners and flags on the walls, some of us in still in scrubs, we waited for the governor. We were told he had a long tiring day, he was coming from the meeting at Norwich town hall with the voters, defending his budget. He took the time after all this to meet us. Why?

That respect continues.

This Monday the Governor will join us as we rally for our first contract in front of the hospital.  The rally starts at 4:30, and we expect him about 5:00 or 5:30.

He went out on a limb meeting us last March.  I mean, we could have lost.  He did it because regardless of the outcome, he supports worker's right to organize and collectively bargain.

Now he comes to us again as we struggle against an administration that has spent $11 million trying to defeat us, and, falling to do so, to bust us.

They will fail at this also. 

The Governor knows what we know.  Unions are good for hospitals and they are good for business.

So, as representatives of our community, the Backus Federation of Nurses welcomes the Governor to Norwich.

It will be nice to see him again.


We had hoped for a breakthrough tonight, partially because it was the last negotiation session before our big rally on Monday.

However, they rejected our health insurance plan even after our insurance consultant showed how it would benefit both the nurses and the hospital, a win-win.

Instead they offered an insurance plan that would have a decrease in cost to them and an increase in cost to the nurses, that would result in between a 10% loss of pay and a 20% loss of pay for any nurse with health insurance.

They rejected our modest pay scale that would bring some sanity to what is now chaos, and would help retain nurses. Instead they offered a continuation of what we have now, pay for performance, which is not based on performance, but is completely subjective and depends more on how your boss feels about you than how you do your job.
They admitted that it is completely up to them if we even get an increase at all.

We rejected this.

Monday at 4:30, 326 Washington St., Norwich, will be our Rally for a Fair Contract. We expect hundreds of people from the greater labor community of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

I expect EVERY BACKUS NURSE who is not working to be there. Bring your friends and relatives.

If you want a fair contract, if you want to be treated with respect, if you want Backus to be the kind of hospital the community can be proud of, then be there.

There comes a time when everyone needs to decide; which side are you on? This is our time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ben DeMond


It is with sadness that we mark the passing of our brother, Benjamin DeMond.  Ben, 33, was killed in a car accident this past weekend.  He was a member of the City of Norwich Fire Department, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 892.  His two young sons, Alex 6 and Cole 4 were injured in the crash.

I didn't know Ben personally, only in passing and through what others have told me, but he is still a brother to us all.  Fire fighters hold a special place with ER nurses, as do all in EMS.  They are brothers and sisters to us all.  Being a fire fighter, Ben was also a union brother. 

My heart goes out to this family and friends, especially all the firefighters, medics, and EMTs of the Norwich area.  His loss leaves a big hole, but he lives on in you.  Every time to don your boots, your turnout gear, your medical gear, every time you turn hit the lights, sound the siren, and respond to a call, every time you hug your children or his, Ben lives on in you.

And Brother Ben now looks down on us, keeping us safe.  Godspeed Ben.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Lorax

I recently went to see the new kid's movie, The Lorax.  It's from a Dr Seuss book of the same name.  I was moved by the lessons in the story, about the evil of runaway greed, about caring for the environment, and about being an activist for what you care about.

It's a story about a world made of plastic because corporate greed came before people and the environment and the Once-ler cut all the trees down to manufacture thneed, a multiple use garment made from the leaves of the trees.  Without trees, the Once-ler is out of business, the air has become polluted and now, Mr. O'Hare is getting rich selling clean air.  O'Hare is against reintroducing trees because it would effect his profit.

The Lorax speaks for the trees and tries to convince the Once-ler from cutting them down.

The Once-ler doesn't listen and ....

Now all that was left 'neath the bad-smelling sky
was my big empty factory...
the Lorax...
and I.
The Lorax said nothing
just gave me a glance.
Just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance.
He lifted himself by the seat of his pants
and I'll never forget the grim look on his face
as he hoisted himself and took leave of this place
through a hole in the smog without leaving a trace
and all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks with one word.

Enter into this story young Ted, who in an effort to impress his romantic interest, Audrey, goes to the Once-ler and gets the last tree seed, plants it and returns order to the world.

Ted asks the Once-ler what the word UNLESS means and he replies......

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It's not.

So, if you have a cause you care about, don't wait for others and don't complain that only a few are doing all the work, do what you can. 
It starts with one person, one person who cares a whole awful lot.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Union work isn't just negotiations

I spent Wednesday in Hartford testifying on a bill concerning workplace violence against health care workers. I did so at the request of AFT CT.  AFT CT was instrumental in getting legislation passed last year to protect health care workers and this new bill could weaken it.  I enclose my testimony below.

Latter, I drove to Foxwoods to attend the United Way Annual Appreciation Event.  Backus Federation of Nurses was invited because we have worked with the United Way on two very successful food drives in the past year and anticipate a close relationship with them for years to come. 

The hearing in Hartford ran late so I arrived only for the end of the United Way event but that was not a problem because we were also represented by Michelle Hayes, Carol Adams and Kathy Palmer, as well as Greg Kotecki, our field representative.

I mention these events because I think it's important for members to understand what goes on away from the negotiation table in your union, all of which effect our lives and our negotiations. 

Testimony of
John Brady, RN
Backus Federation of Nurses
AFT Local
SB 275 – An Act Concerning Workplace Violence and Reporting
Public Health Committee
March 7, 2012
Good morning Senator Gerratana, Representative Ritter and members of the Public Health Committee.  Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.  My name is John Brady and I'm a Registered Nurse working in the Emergency Department at Backus Hospital in Norwich.  I come before you to ask for your help.
My colleagues and I face the danger of physical and verbal attacks on a daily basis.  It is critical to our safety that Connecticut's workplace violence laws be strong.  Those who dedicate themselves to the care of others need and deserve the ability to work without our lives being threatened. I have seen verbal and physical attacks against nurses and other health care workers leave them so traumatized that they have left bedside nursing.
I'd like to share with you just one example:
The patient was a big man, well over six feet tall.  His arms were so large that the blood pressure cuff could not encircle his upper arm and I had to use his forearm instead. He was depressed and had expressed thoughts of suicide to a friend. He was changed out of his street clothes and placed under constant observation. He waited in a seclusion room, resting on a stretcher, his back towards the camera used to observe him.
He had been waiting for a couple of hours for the psych clinician to speak with him. Suddenly, the person observing him yelled out for help! With his back to the camera, the patient had managed to tie a bed sheet into a noose, tie it to the stretcher rail, place it around his neck, and was starting to lay himself on the floor.
I rushed to the bedside and struggled to pull the noose up and over his head. Somehow I was successful. At this point he jumped to his feet and wrapped his massive forearm around my head, pulling my head towards his waist in a headlock.  
To this day I don't know why he didn't snap my neck.  Maybe he only wanted attention, maybe it was because I was too afraid to resist, too weak to break his hold, or maybe I'm here before you today only because security arrived just in time to prevent it.
It's taken me time to recover emotionally from this attack and yet under the proposed changes I am not sure it would even meet the definition of an "act of violence". There was no loss of life, consciousness, injury requiring treatment, impediment of my breathing, or blood circulation, nor was I restrained by the throat or neck or verbally threatened.
Yet with one twist of my head he could have snapped my neck.
This is just one example of what happens day in and day out in hospitals across Connecticut.  
Health care workers are often discouraged from reporting to police. 
I urge you to keep Connecticut's work place violence laws strong, for my sake, the sake of my colleagues, and the sake of the patients and visitors to our hospitals.
Thank you for your time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

then we win

After Jesus was baptized in the Jordon by John he was moved to go into the desert for 40 days before starting his public ministry.  While there he was tempted by Satan. 

It's interesting to me that there is no record of temptation prior to this.  It seems that only when Jesus became a threat did the temptations begin.

Mohandas Gandhi spoke of this, "First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us, then we win."

It isn't ideas that bring the push back, be it from Satan, an oppressive regime, or a management set on denying workers a voice.

When a group of people stand up and become activist, that's when the push back comes. This is true in Syria and in Norwich, CT.

A people compelled to action cannot be silenced anymore than Jesus or Gandhi could.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Union Rally

This past week has been both busy and productive.

Negotiations last Tuesday ran until 2:30 am.  Finally, we have some movement and I am encouraged by that.  I believe it's a result of the pressure we have applied and the support we have received from the community in general and the labor community in particular.  I want to thank everyone for all they have done.

We are down to the nitty gritty.  We have the definition of per diem, pension and 403 (b), insurance, and wages and wage system left to negotiate.  We hope to be able to finish these up in the 4 sessions we have left, and we are willing to go all night on these sessions if that will help.

On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the hospital on the denial of our wages and bonus, the trial will be May 14th. The NLRB gave management a chance to settle this without a trial but management refused.

Today we informed management that we intend to hold a rally outside the hospital on March 19, at 4:30 pm.  This is a critical time in our negotiations, a time when we need the community's support the most. The rally will be with participation of the entire southeastern Connecticut  public and labor community to build support and pressure management to ensure a fair contract.

I urge all nurses to be at negotiations on the March 13, 15, 27, and 29. 
I urge all nurses, families and supporters to attend our rally and show management that we will not tolerate their continued violation of our rights and that we stand in solidarity to ensure a just and fair contract.

Please RSVP for the rally @ Backus Rally.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A struggle worth fighting, a struggle we are winning

Last Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Backus Hospital.
A "complaint" from the NLRB is similar to an indictment. The NLRB is charging management with breaking the law and is taking them to court, a trial is scheduled for May 14.

The NLRB gave management a chance to settle this without a trial but management refused.

This is one of 7 times that management has broken the law, first with the security union and now six times with the nurse's union. Each time, until now, they have settled without a trial. 

The complaint charges management with withholding our performance bonus, wage increase, and 403(b) contribution, and with prohibiting us from distributing union stickers while on non-working time in a non-working area and denying access to public areas to a non-employee union representative while permitting such access to other members of the public.

It charges management with "failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith" and "interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of guaranteed rights."

The government has done an investigation and found merit in the case. They have offered the hospital a chance to make it right before filing a charge.  In this case the government was very clear with management.  They offered a settlement to management to avoid filing a complaint and going to trial.  The settlement is clear.  If management pays out the pieces of the shared rewards program to the nurses they will be in compliance with the law and avoid a complaint. 

This has been a long and difficult struggle and repeatedly we have had to stand up for our rights.

It is worth the struggle.

We are starting to get movement at the negotiations table because we are standing up for ourselves.

We cannot control the actions of management, but we can and will refuse to be pushed around. Every time management violates the law we will seek corrective action.  We have a legitimate right to stand together, protected by law, defended by every military veteran who ever fought for our rights on the front line and every worker who ever walked the picket line.

It is a struggle worth fighting and a struggle we are winning.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Last Sunday I attended a fundraiser for US Congressman Joe Courtney.  Also in attendance were half a dozen Connecticut state representatives.  I was there for two reasons, I support the work of Congressman Courtney and I was there to enlist the continued support of Joe and the state representatives for our union.
These are people who can put pressure on Backus management to negotiate in good faith. 

In exchange, I pledged to support them, to do what I could when they needed help.  Some might say I was buying their support, but it's not that way.  These are people with a record of supporting working men and women and their right to organize.

I never wanted to be a politician, and I have no desire to serve in public office, but one could argue that I have become one.  I am motivated by the desire to change things at the hospital, to make it the type of hospital where nurses would want to spend their career.  This is best for our patients because experienced nurses are good nurses.  For this to come about nurses need the ability to speak without fear of retaliation, they need to be compensated fairly and competitively, and they need to have a real voice in their own practice.  Without these changes, the talent drain will continue and patients will suffer.

As I work on this I have come to realize that this effects not only Backus, it effects working men and women everywhere.  We all desire and deserve the ability to make a living wage.

Getting from these beliefs to enactment is where politics comes in.  The rich have money and the ability to influence elections, but workers have numbers.  When workers stand together we can elect officials who believe as we do and we can become strong and effect change.

So, a small group of us have been meeting with politicians, labor leaders, and non profits.  We have been making contacts with newspapers, bloggers, and radio.  The word is getting out every day.  People hear our story and become supporters, because ours is an easy cause to support.

We seek a hospital bases on the belief that patients come before profits.