Monday, April 9, 2012

Past, Present, and Future

Because of the rate of turnover, there are so many new nurses at work that I thought it might be good to look back at the formation of our local to help them understand.

About a year and a half ago a group of Backus nurses started meeting and discussing working conditions.  We all shared the same concern, that Backus was heading in the wrong direction and that the bedside nurse was helpless to stop this.  Not being able to live with this conclusion, we decided to see what we could do.  We felt that maybe we could effect change if we stood together, and that we needed to at least try.

Last May we voted and formed the Backus Federation of Nurses, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.  AFT has 5 divisions, K-12 Teachers, PARAS, Higher Education, Public Employees, and Health Care.  AFT Connecticut has 28,000 members, AFT national has 1.5 million members, and the AFL-CIO, which we are also affiliated with, has 11 million members. 
We retain local autonomy and yet have the power of millions.

The decisions for Backus nurses are made by Backus nurses.

Since then, we have worked closely with other AFT locals, other labor unions, labor leaders in Connecticut and nationally, our state representatives and senators, the governor, our Washington representative and senators, community leaders, non profit groups and religious groups to build a coalition of mutual support.

We meet on a regular basis with the leaders of the AFT health care locals, the Southeastern Central Labor Council/AFL-CIO, our state representatives and senators, the Governor, and Representative Joe Courtney. 
A special relationship had developed with the three L+M AFT locals.  The Union has existed there for over 40 years and about 10 years expanded to a third local, now representing almost the entire hospital.  We like to say that there are now 4 L+M/Backus locals, because we stand in solidarity.
We have also established a relationship with the United Way, with United Action Connecticut (an affiliation of religious and civic organizations) and with St Mary Star of the Sea Church.
We have held food drives and blood pressure checks and plan on expanding them.

We have what I see as the beginning of a professional relationship with our Director of Human Resources and our Vice President of HR, a relationship based on mutual respect.  I appreciate this relationship because we will be working closely with them in the years to come.
We have growing relationships with local press and radio too.

I have spoken at the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, the Washington office of the AFL-CIO, and before the legislature in Hartford. Several of us have given testimony to the NLRB in Hartford and at our office in Norwich.

It's been a busy year and a half.
None of this has been easy, it's taken a lot of work by a lot of people. 
Because of all this work we will soon have a first tentative contract.
Then we will all vote on it.
We will be like most other professionals, doctors, lawyers, upper management, we will have an agreement to exchange our time and skills for certain wages, benefits, and working conditions.
One of the most important pieces is that we will no longer we an "at will" employee, able to be disciplined or discharged at the will of the employer.  Now any discipline or discharge will need proof of a just reason and if we cannot agree we will have a grievance procedure and arbitration if necessary. 

Beyond the provisions of the contract there is much for us to do.  I envision food drives, health screening/blood pressure checks, a nurse speaker program for local school and civic groups, CEU education opportunities at our office, and more.  There will be opportunities for everyone who wishes to become involved, based on their own interests and time availability.

Grand ideas, yes, but as the song says, "When you wish upon a star your dreams come true."
There were some who doubted we could get this far, not I.  I know the dedication and commitment of health care workers. We are a unique group, dedicated to a mission of caring.

That's our story up till now, the future is up to you and I.

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