Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The right tool

I have owned two houses in my life.  We bought the first one in 1976 and sold that one and bought our current home 10 years later.  In both houses we have had a filter on our water line because of sediment.  They work very well but occasionally the filter needs to be changed when it starts to clog up. 
I have struggled to remove the housing of the filter more times than I can remember.  It seems that over time it gets tighter and tighter.  I have even broken a filter or two trying to do so.

Today, I found myself at it again.  I could not loosen the housing and even my hammer would not do the trick.

Today, I did something different.

I took a trip to our local Lowes store and spoke to the plumbing expert.  He sold me a universal housing wrench, I came home, and the filter was off in minutes without any problems.

Who'd a thought!

This brings up two important principles.
We all need help at times.
The right tool makes the job easy.

Being on the union's organizing and negotiations team has been a good lesson for me.
After we organized, the organizing committee faced a decision.  Should we call for elections of officers or wait until we had a contract?  We decided to wait, and I believe in hindsight that it was the right decision.  As we negotiated we came to know each others personalities and strengths better and people started filling particular roles, based on their talents and interest.  We ended up with the right people doing the right job, and, like my new wrench, it made things easier. 

Our next step in our young union's life is to approve a constitution and bylaws, then hold election of officers, and then train delegates (stewards). I expect that to all happen in the next 2-3 months. I think it's important that we all remember that no one alone is responsible for making this happen, we all need help. If we get the right people with the right talents and interest in the right role, we will be well on our way.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Contract Essentials

Now that our contract has been ratified, it is an agreement between the nurses and the hospital on wages, benefits and working conditions. It is being proof read and then will be signed by the bargaining committee, printed out, and distributed to every bargaining unit employee. I will try to point out some highlights.

First, a word about Union Membership Application cards and Agency Fees cards.  All non salary full and part time nurses budgeted for 4 or more hours/week are covered by this contract.  You are entitled to full union representation.  Per diem nurses are not covered by the contract.  However, if the hospital continues to place any requirement on you that you work a minimum number of hours, then you are no longer considered per diem.  Confusing yes, but it will work itself out shortly.
Union Membership cards entitle you to full union membership, including the ability to shape the agenda of the Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Connecticut and AFT, to serve as a delegate (steward) or officer, to vote for officers, contracts, constitution/bylaws, attend union meetings, to participate on union committees, including bargaining committee, to take advantage to union discounts (, and more.

Check-Off of Agency Fees cards authorize the hospital to deduct agency fees.  (The costs of administering the contract that all are required to pay under law) We anticipate our agency fees to be about 70% of union dues. Remember that Agency Fee nurses, as non union members, forfeit the ability to shape the agenda.

The union dues and agency fees will be set by the constitution/bylaw committee and voted on by all union members.  The next committee meeting is 6/4 and the tentative date for the vote is 6/14.

Many things are unchanged or only slightly changed.  You may ask, if they're unchanged, why did we need to form a union and negotiate a contract?  The difference now is they cannot be changed at the will of the hospital, as in the past.  Now, wages, benefits, and working conditions must be negotiated.

Here are some of the changes that will be of interest.

3% increase as of 6/3/12,
2.25% increase June 2013,
1% increase June 2014.
There is now a minimum wage for each graduation class.
If the % increase leaves you below the minimum for your class you would go to the minimum.

Health Insurance- PPO  2, no change in coays/deductibles.  We pay a % of the total cost of our insurance.
                                                     32 hour or more employee
                                    NOW             JAN 2013      JAN 2014         JAN 2015
employee                       8.5%               12.2%           16.7%              21.7%    
employee +1                 11.5%              12.2%           16.7%              21.7%
family                            11.7%              12.2%          16.7%               21.7%
                                                       24-32 hour employee
employee                      16.43%             22.43%        29.18%              36.68%
employ +1                    23.02%              22.43%        29.18%               36.68%
family                           23.42%              22.43%        29.18%               36.68%

Dental and Vision, no significant changes.

Retirement-403b with matching funds as before (2011 matching funds to be deposited the week of 6/10/12), no shared rewards discretionary match.  Old Pension plan, unchanged.

Evaluations- Hospital determines the form and method used for evaluations.  Wages are not tied to evaluations and evaluations cannot be used in any arbitration.

Shift differentials- unchanged.

Bereavement Pay- unchanged, except now may request additional time off if needed for death of relative (unpaid or vacation time) and may request time off for a non relative and use vacation time. Requests cannot be unreasonably denied.

On Call- unchanged except: anyone currently working and living more than 25 minutes from the hospital is except from the 30 minute rule, hospital will establish parking area solely for on call use near the doorway, on call nurse may punch at any time clock, and will have 10 minute dressing time after punch in.

Holidays/Weekends- unchanged except differential now $5.

In my opinion, the most important change is in our Just Cause article.

Without a contract, we could be disciplined or discharged for any reason unless we could prove discrimination for race, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, genetic information of marital status, and the burden of proof was on us.
The Just Cause article says, "No employee (bargaining unit nurse) shall be disciplined or discharged without just cause".
Now, unless there is a just reason (just cause), we cannot be disciplined or discharged and if we disagree with the hospital, the Grievance and Arbitration article gives us a mechanism for recourse, including an in dependant arbitrator if needed.

It will take some time for both sides to come to understand and live by this agreement.  There will be bumps in the road.  We are in agreement with Theresa and Karen in HR that we will all try to smooth such bumps and avoid unnecessasary grievances.  There will be times when a supervisor or a nurse doesn't yet understand the new landscape.  There will be other times when we must agree to disagree and at those times we will work through the grievance process and the contract will guide us.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

All gave some, some gave all

On this Memorial Day I wish to remember all our veterans, those men and women willing to risk their lives for our freedom.  In a special way, we remember those who never came home.

I'm thinking of my dad and my uncles, who served in World War II.  By the grace of God they all came home.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like, to leave the safety of home and travel to a foreign country, to come under enemy fire, to see your buddies killed along side you.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like for my grandmother, grandfather and aunts, to say goodbye to your sons, your bothers, to not hear from them for long periods of time, to wonder if they were alright.

My dad was a U S Marine.  He was injured by a flame thrower while landing on a beach in the South Pacific.  His buddies saved his life by pulling him to safety.  He spent a full year in the military hospital in San Diego, receiving multiple skin grafts.  He received last rights of the church several times when it was uncertain if he would pull through.  He did and he went on to finish the college that he left to volunteer, marry and have 6 children.

Some time after meeting my wife, she confided in me that the first time she met him she was taken aback by the scars on his face. 

I had never noticed.

His story and the story of his brothers and family is one of a million stories.  People who gave their all so that we might have the freedoms and rights that we enjoy.

We have a responsibility to these people to exercise our rights.  So don't tell me that your not interested, not involved, or that you don't vote because it doesn't matter.

It mattered to them.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Union Update

A couple of people have asked me what I'm doing with all my free time since our negotiations have concluded and we have ratified our contract.


Let me first say that Mary Bylone stopped down to the ED on last week. We chatted for a few minutes, just to touch base about moving foreword.  I appreciate that gesture.  I also got to touch  base with Dave Whitehead.  Are these big things?  No, and yes, if you know what I mean.

As far as free time.....Friday I had a family funeral, Saturday I attended the AFT Connecticut convention, Sunday morning I walked in a relay for life, Monday I had a meeting in HR where I represented one of our members, Tuesday we had a constitution/bylaw meeting, Wednesday  I met with Michelle, Carol, Greg, Karen Knight and Theresa Buss to map out the mechanics of implementing our contract, and then helped at our church bingo, and last night I went grocery shopping with my wife.  Oh yes, there's work too.

Some updates:

Weekend and Holiday differentials increase as of Sunday, 5/27 from $4.25 to $5.

3% wage increase as of Sunday, 6/3.  Some people may see a larger increase if their pay has fallen behind their graduation class.  Each class has a minimum rate now.

403b matching funds will be deposited the week of 6/10.

Meeting on Monday, 6/4, 5:30, at the office, to hopefully finalize our constitution/bylaws.  All members are welcome.

Tentative vote on constitution/bylaws 6/14. Tentative time is 2-5pm.  Karen and Theresa are working on getting us a spot at the hospital to make it convenient, thank you to them for this.

Once the constitution/bylaws are approved by a majority vote of our members, we will schedule a date for nominations and election of officers.  After that we will work on getting delegates (stewards) in place and trained.  We had a sign up sheet for those interested in serving as delegates at the contract vote.  It was wonderful to see so much interest.  If anyone else is interested, let us know.

Moving forward, there is much to do, but we are many, and one step at a time will get us there.

I have mentioned in previous blogs what I envision as the future of our local.  There is much to do in service to our members and our community. 
It's critical to remember that I have one vote, and you have one vote.  Every one's opinion is important.

In my next blog I will try to lay out some of the contract details.  All bargaining unit nurses will receive a hard copy when it is printed and it will be available on the hospital intranet.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Salute to EMS

I was having trouble deciding what to write and I thought, maybe nothing's happening in my life to write about.
Yeah right!

The problem is that in the last 10 days I've been overloaded.
We lost my brother in law to cancer, we ended a year of negotiations when we came to a tentative agreement, we ratified the contract, I spoke at our union's state convention and we walked in a cancer society Relay for Life.
Enough already!

While I was feeling sorry for myself I was reminded that this is Emergency Medical Services week, dedicated to all the fine people who dedicate themselves to our safety and well being, people who have a right to feel overloaded on a regular basis.

Over the years of my working in the emergency room I have come to know these men and women.  I do not think you could find a more dedicated and courageous group of people.  Underpaid and often under appreciated, it is a privileged to have come to know them in my role as an emergency nurse. I am sure I do not always show it, but I have the greatest respect for these brave men and women who, when every survival instinct in us says to run for safety, they calmly march in, placing themselves in danger to save their neighbors.

I salute my brothers and sisters of the EMS community, may God keep you safe, as you keep us safe.

Friday, May 18, 2012

See you in heaven

Today I attended the funeral of my brother in law, Wayne Bagley.  It was an emotional day as you can imagine.  Wayne was 2 years younger than I.  As I have thought about him more this past few months and as I sat and listened as several of his close friends from childhood, college, and work, speak of him, I have come to understand him better and realize the things we have in common.

For sure, I do not have his organizational skills, Wayne's tools hang in his garage, each with it's specific spot, his entire life was organized.  It's what made him so good at his work, that and his people skills.  Wayne negotiated multi million dollar contracts for helicopters with heads of governments around the world.  When they made a deal with Wayne, they knew that the details would be right and that his word was gold. As we left the church today, a Sikorsky BlackHawk helicopter made a tree top flyover, and then returned for a second flyover.  A fitting tribute to the respect he holds in his profession.

Wayne was passionate about everything he did, negotiating sales or woodworking at home, as one of his friends said, a job wasn't done until Wayne was satisfied.

I am much more relaxed when it comes to perfection, I am no where near as organized, but I do understand his passion.  I also share the amazement that he did in where our passion has taken us.  One day last year, before he knew he was sick, we sat and traded war stories over a beer.  I told him of the people I was meeting with my union work and he told me how he had just negotiated with a Saudi prince. Bragging?  Maybe in part, but I think we both couldn't quite believe how two kids from working class families could be doing what we were. 

I have been asked to say a few words at our state convention tomorrow about the Backus team. 

I wish I could share that experience with him.

Godspeed brother, see you in heaven, save me a beer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tentative contract reached

Tonight the Backus Federation of Nurses and Backus Hospital have tentatively agreed to a collective bargaining agreement.

The tentative agreement will be voted on by all union members this Wednesday and if approved it will become our first contract.  The bargaining committee supports ratification of this contract.

An announcement will be coming soon on when and where the ratification vote will take place.  Every member should vote.  We will be there with copies of the contract for you to review and Negotiation Committee members to answer any questions.

On behalf of the membership I would like to thank the entire bargaining team for their hours of hard work and energy, you have set a wonderful example of service.

We look forward to working in a cooperative relationship with Backus management.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wayne Bagley

My brother in law, Wayne Bagley, went home to his heavenly reward yesterday, he was 55. Wayne found out last fall that he had mesothelioma and a few weeks ago that further treatment would not help.

He was a wonderful man, father, husband and brother in law, I will miss him deeply.  I also believe that I will see him again and I look forward to that day.

Cancer has not been kind to our family in recent years.  Another brother in law, Ira, lost his battle 4 years ago, he was only 56.  Last fall, we lost my mother in law, Gloria. All three were wonderful people, adding proof to the saying that the good die young.

I don't know why this happens, why we lose people we love before what we believe should be their time.  I do know that it makes me pause an remember that none of us is guaranteed a preset number of days, that every day is a gift, and that our loved ones are on loan to us.

My prayers are with my sister in law, my niece, my nephew, Wayne's sister, and all who called Wayne friend and will miss him.  My prayers are also with the millions of us who have lost someone close to us.

May God's peace come into our hearts and give us rest in the knowledge that our loved ones rest safely in His hands and that we will see them again.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Nightingale awards

It was my pleasure to attend the  Nightingale awards last night and honor the Backus, L+M, Day Kimball, and other nurses for their dedication and fine work.

Backus nurses Lois Annino, Teresa Bliss, Elizabeth Dowd, Rebecca Lassan, Renee Malaro, Josephine MacDonald, Bille Peloquin, Katie Pollard, Melissa Rainey, Karen Sanders, Allison Taylor, Victoria Tyler, their families, and their colleges, should be proud.  It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Every day, across this country and the world, nurses dedicate their lives to the care of others.  The compassion, skill and knowledge needed and the stamina to continue day after day is remarkable.  Often, this passionate work goes unnoticed, in the rooms of community hospitals, the hills of Honduras, the slums of Haiti, the bedside of the terminal, the halls of our state capitols, the classrooms of our nursing schools, in the uniform of our armed services, responding to natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina, and so many more.

It is fitting that we should recognise this work and say thank you to this year's Nightingales, as well as past and future Nightingales.

Well done.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We are a Team

It was almost a year ago, we sat in the MOB conference room, the election had just finished, we counted votes.  I counted the NO votes and she counted the Yes. 

We won.

Shortly after, she got promoted and I have spent the last year in countless unpaid hours of planning, worrying, defending, being attacked, negotiating and lobbying to bring our young local to life.

It's not fair, it's not just, it's just the way it is.

In a week or so I'm going to speak at our AFT Connecticut convention about the team we have built at Backus.  It will be an honor.  But the real honor has been being part of that team. 
I'll tell them about the organizing committee and the bargaining committee, but I'll also tell them about all the other nurses who have become a real part of our union be it through food drives, blood pressure screenings, negotiations, rallies and informational picketing, signing petitions of support, words of encouragement, and other ways.  I'll also tell them of the members of other health care locals, others unions, political allies, non profit groups, church groups, radio stations, and the public who have joined our team.

A response to a recent blog sums it up:

I am a Registered Nurse, in the field for 24 years. I don't work at Backus, but I have followed your journey through these contract negotiations and am incredibly impressed with how strong your nurses are. It is reprehensible what you have had to deal with, and I admire how hard you have worked and how well you have stayed together. I wish you all the best and hope this is successfully resolved soon. I want you to know that you have the great respect and enthusiastic support of many people that you will never meet. Good Luck to you all... and thank you for having the courage to sacrifice so much of your time to bring into the public eye the conditions under which many nurses work. Nurses everywhere wish you all the best.Good luck!!!

She got a promotion......I got a team.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Yesterday Michelle and I travelled to New York City to visit my brother in law, Wayne.  He is a patient at Sloan Kettering Hospital.  He has mesothelioma.

Cancer has not been kind to us.  My brother in law Ira and my mother in law Gloria both lost their battles in the last few years.

It makes you think about the reason for life and you start to question things.

Among the questions is why do we struggle so hard for the causes we believe in, since life is so short, so fleeting.  What does it matter?

And yet, we do it.  Causes we believe in, even games we partake in, become at the same time, all important and not important at all.  It's a curious human condition.

I believe that this life on earth is only a small portion of our eternal life, even though I have no proof or that, no rational reason to believe, yet I do.

Maybe some things are beyond our ability to grasp, maybe that is what faith is, believing anyway.

Faith allows me to believe that I will once again see those who go before me, and that's very comforting.
It also allows me to continue to struggle for what I believe is right, even if I do not understand it's role in the grand scheme, trusting that there's a reason for my passion.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sometimes it all makes sense

Every once in a while I get a moment when it all comes together.  At times like this I see the interconnections around me.  I see how all people are connected, how all of nature is connected.

It's pretty cool!

I had one of those moments this year at the Easter Vigil mass.

Passover celebrates the Israelite's deliverance from the death of slavery into the new life in the promised land.  At Easter, Jesus is delivered from death to life.

My Jewish friends have taught me that the Passover isn't something that happened to their ancestors, that Passover is experienced by every Jew of every age.  But do I not also call Moses, Elijah, and Abraham my fathers too? And do we not all experience Passover in our lives, our own slavery and deliverance?

A common thread in our Passover experience is our deliverance from whatever enslaves us.  The new life of Easter is our tuning to something or some one greater than ourselves, a higher power, be that God by whatever name we call him, friends, or the order of the universe.

When I remember this, when I believe it, it all comes together.

And that's pretty cool!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Negotiation Update 5/2

At our last negotiation session we made a move designed to break a logjam . We moved off our position for a wage step system and instead offered a wage "range" based on graduation date, with a ceiling and floor to each graduation class. It was a significant move on our part and I think offers a contract that both sides can accept.

Management has taken a careful, serious look at our proposal and have told us we are "very close".
Management suggested that we jointly ask the NLRB to postpone the May 14 trial and that we meet once again, on that date, because they feel we can come to agreement.
This was not an easy decision for your bargaining team. In the end we agreed and together we asked the Federal government to postpone the trial.
The new trial date will begin June 4 and run on consecutive days till completed.
We will meet on May 14 and we will quickly know if management is really serious about reaching an agreement. Management has committed to meet all night long if necessary to reach an agreement and to reconvene on May 16, if needed, for any finishing details.
Now is a time for calm. We will take management at their word. If we are wrong, if management comes on the May 14 without a real, serious offer, then at least we will know that we did everything in our power to reach an agreement that is fair to both sides.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A real nursing story

My editor told me that I hadn't done a "nursey blog" in quite a while.  He's right, I've been somewhat busy with union activity.

Busy is probably an understatement.  I haven't had time to visit with my mom in weeks and I don't for the life of me know why my wife hasn't left me, she's just a wonderful person.

The reason I'm so passionate about union work is because I'm so passionate about nursing.

The resident nurse are doing three week rotations in the emergency department.  They are so young, so bright, so full of promise.  I want a future where they can practice nursing with pride, where they will have the support and respect to work at the bedside should that be their wish, for a long, long career, a career where they will touch the lives of so many patients and families.

I keep waiting for life to slow down, to get back to blogging about nursing, to get back to spending more time with my family and my amazing wife.  It will come, I will find the balance.

I love these young nurses, and I love nursing.  I have touched many lives in the care I have given but it pales to the number of lives I can touch by improving the working conditions for my fellow nurses, because if they stay in bedside nursing they will touch millions of lives.

The reason my wife and my family have been so understanding is because they understand.
And that's the real nursing story.