Saturday, December 29, 2012

Local 5149 update

In an effort to save money the hospital sometimes calls nurses prior to their shift and tells them not to come in, because the patient census is low. While I understand the need to be prudent with health care dollars, I believe that practice of routinely canceling shifts is contrary to retention of experienced nurses.
Sometimes, the hospital calls nurses and cancels for the first 4 hours of the shift, only to call them again in a few hours to cancel the rest of the day. Not only does this decrease the take home pay of the nurse, but it limits their ability to work a second job on that day, an option many have, or make other plans, because they are unsure if they are working a partial day or not.
Canceling shifts is the hospital's right under our contract.  Article 17 provides a process to be followed. 
The following order is to be followed: Nurses who would receive OT, then volunteers, followed by Traveler/Temporary and Per Diem nurses, then nurses above their budgeted hours, and finally nurses on a rotational basis per department, beginning with the least senior in the department.
We filed a grievance based on the fact that when they cancel for 4 hours and then cancel for an additional 4 hours, they have in effect, canceled the same person twice in a row, violating the terms of the contract. (rotational basis)
As a result of this grievance we have come to an understanding and agreement and,
effective 1/6/13, only full shifts will be canceled.
While this is not ideal, I hope it will decrease the number of canceled shifts, increase the use of "on call" with compensation, and allow those who are canceled to work another job for the day or make other plans, knowing they do not have to wait 4 hours to see if they need to report to work.  In short, I hope it leads to increased retention of good, experience nurses, which is good for us, management, and most importantly, our patients.

Another grievance, on single day vacations, will be going to arbitration in February.
Our argument is that although contract language says we must submit 4 weeks in advance for vacation, the intent was clear from negotiation notes that this was meant to be 4 weeks minimum
Management agreed on full week vacations, and agreed to a 6 month time frame, but they would not budge on single days, so we filed a grievance.
It was denied at steps 1, 2 and 3, so we sent it to arbitration, where an independent arbitrator will make the final decision.

Recently a nurse was placed on administrative leave for a week pending an investigation of an incident. I am happy to report that we represented her and she is back to work with full back pay.

I met with new State Senator Cathy Osten, AFT CT lobbyist Jen Berigan, Greg, and Harry Rodriguez, the president of L+M health care workers, at our office last Friday. It was a good opportunity to meet and discuss issues of importance to both Cathy and our members. She understands that the rights of workers and the success of small businesses are tied together.
Carol Adams, our political liaison, couldn't be there, but she has been active at the state level and will be our point person on all things political.

Donna Callicutt has been working hard with AFT in Washington to set everything up for our charter and our membership cards should be coming soon. This will allow members to take advantage on discounts that can be found on the state and national web sites.

 If you ever have any questions please do not hesitate to call me or Melissa, our numbers are on the website.
 Also if you are called "to the office", please ask for a delegate to come with you.  It is your right if questions are asked that could lead to discipline.

On a personal note I want to express my sympathy to the families and friends of the Webster NY firefighters who were killed responding to a fire.  Firefighters and all EMS workers put their lives on the line daily to protect us.  To have to face this kind of violence while on such a mission is unacceptable.  Violence like this is always unacceptable. 
Violence against EMS, school workers, health care workers, and others who dedicate themselves to the service of others must end.

2012 was a year that found us struggling for a first contract and achieving it.  It found us dealing with growing pains as a Local.
As we enter 2013, we will continue to look for common ground with management, looking for solutions that benefit all involved, management, workers, and patients. There are many changes coming to health care and we must stay up on them, and we must stay united in our belief that what benefits health care workers, benefits our patients.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

He was born in poverty to a homeless family in a stable.
He was never the head of a large company, never in politics, never wealthy.
He worked with his hands as a carpenter until he was 30 years old.

For 3 years he walked the countryside preaching that we should serve others and not have others be in service to us, that we should make ourselves last and God would make us first, that we should not judge others, and what his cousin John had preached, that if a man has two coats he should share one with the man who has none. 

The people in power killed him for what he taught and yet the world today looks to him for for inspiration.
It is said he died to save us from our sins, but he also lived to show us how to live.

This poor, humble worker, to some the Son of God, to some a prophet, to all an example of how to live a good life.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Guardian Angels of Sandy Hook

As a small child I had a picture over my bed.  It was a young boy, maybe 6 or 8 years old, walking down a dirt path with a stick over his shoulder. Hanging from the stick was a string and a hook and he was obviously on his way to go fishing. This young boy was looking up into the eyes of a young man who was walking beside him with his arm around the shoulder of the boy.  The young man looked to be in his 20s or 30s and had gentle eyes looking down at the boy.  They both wore smiles and the picture was bright, like the sun was shinning.  The young man wore a white robe, that went to his ankles and had a rope tied about his waist.  I think the young man had wings but they were translucent, not as obvious as everything else in the picture. They both walked barefoot.
I was told by my parents that this was my Guardian Angel.
My Guardian Angel was aways with me, and would always protect me, and we all had Guardian Angels.
The twenty children of Sandy Hook Elementary School have been lovingly called Angels, and they are.
There are many stories of heroism coming out of this tragedy, of adults who put themselves in harms way to protect "their children".  No doubt many children were saved because of such courageous acts by these Guardian Angels.
I'm sure the children felt the same kind of comfort being with them as I did as a young child, knowing my Guardian Angel was always looking over me.
Six of these Guardian Angels made the trip home to Heaven with their children.
Rachel, Dawn, Anne Marie, Lauren, Mary, and Victoria have complete their mission on earth and are now protecting their children in Heaven.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sandy Hook

Sometimes there truly are no words.

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School is unfathomable.

We struggle to understand the irrational, we seek answers to the unanswerable, we seek to deal and move on.

But How?

I have no answers.
I send my prayers out to those effected, to the families of those who died, to the community of Newtown, to the emergency responders and to the hospital staff who cared for victims.
Educators, students, medical personal, and all of us, across this nation and the world are effected by this.
Maybe that, as painful as it is, it the shinning light in a dark time.
We are all effected because we are all connected, all God's children, all brothers and sisters.

There will be time once the investigation is completed to take steps to decrease the chances of this repeating.
As for now, let us all pray and be there for one another.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Right to Work (for less)

This week Michigan became the 26th state to pass so called "Right to work" legislation.

There were many issues with how it was passed, including being rushed through without public hearings, and no doubt all that will lead to legal challenges and recall elections, but what is this so called "right to work" legislation anyway?

On the surface it sounds like a good idea.  Who would be against somebody having the right to work and isn't this country founded on individual freedoms?
But as you know, slogans and names can be deceiving.

When a professional decides to take a position, they sit with the employer and work out a deal acceptable to both sides.  If we are talking about a position with a high rate of pay then there are usually lawyers involved to protect everyone's interest.
When a worker accepts a position they do not have the individual resources to hire a lawyer to negotiate for them, but if they join with fellow workers, they can have such resources.
To do so, they form a group, called a union, sit down with the employer and work out a deal, much as an individual would do.

When a group of employees decide to join together and bargain as a group for wages, benefits, and working conditions, they are exercising their right to do so under the laws of this country. I don't think anyone would deny that this is just.

Some employers would rather that these workers not have such resources because then the employer has the advantage.

When a group of workers decide to proceed with he formation of such a union, a vote is taken and if the majority elects to unionize, then that union has an obligation under law to negotiate for ALL the workers and to protect ALL the worker's rights under the negotiated contract.  In fact, failure to protect ANY worker's rights by the union leadership is against the law.  The workers set union dues to pay for the cost of the collective bargaining process and all share the cost.

Under so called "right to work" legislation, any specific worker has the right to refuse to pay their share of the costs, leaving their fellow workers to pick up the tab, even though all receive the benefits of the contract and must have their rights under the contract protected.
It's like telling the people in your town that they do not have to pay their taxes, even though they drive on the roads maintained and plowed by the town, send their kids to the school, etc.  If that happened, the few people paying their taxes would have to cover the entire costs and their taxes would skyrocket!

"Right to work" legislation sounds good until you see it for what it truly is, an attempt by greedy people to prevent workers from successfully bargaining for fair wages, benefits and working conditions.
It is an attempt to circumvent what our country stands for, justice for all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The other day I received an email from AFT in Washington.  Part of the email was a request for some information, but what got me excited was the fact that they had issued the Backus Federation of Nurses a Local charter, officailly makeing us AFT Local 5149!
I realize that most of the world will not notice this moment in history, I know that most of our members will say "OK John" and not feel the excitement I do.  In fact, I'm not sure exactly why this meant so much to me, it just did.
Just over two years ago a small group of us started meeting, first in coffee houses, then in the Norwich office of the UAW, and finally in our own office.  We met in secret because our employer was not in favor of us organizing.  We met because as nurses we felt we had to, we had been taught to advocate and we were advocating for ourselves, our families, our patients, our hospital and our community.  The hospital didn't agree, not all the nurses agreed, but we were compelled by an inner drive.
We grew in numbers and started meeting with nurses at their homes, being invited into their living rooms and kitchens, hearing their stories, and their hopes and dreams.
We held an election and after winning we met for a year negotiating for our first contract.
It was a difficult journey, but one that brought me closer to so, so many nurses and made me even more committed to the idea that standing together we could make a diffence.
I have said all along that I hope for a hospital where young, bright nurses come to work and want to stay.  I hope we have started down that road.
Together, the nurses of Backus Hospital, along with so many in organized labor, politics, and the community, brought us to the point where I received that email. 
Maybe that's why I was so moved.  To me, "5149" represents what happens when people believe in something bigger than themselves and when they take personnal risks because they believe it's the right thing to do.

Friday, December 7, 2012


My wife and I saw the new movie "Lincoln" last night.   It's a great movie, as most Spielberg movies are, and I highly recommend it.
It deals with Lincoln near the end of the Civil War and the struggle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  It shows the political back game in trying to accomplish something like this.  Many of the players had to compromise their positions to make the amendment a reality.  It was too much change for some, and not enough change for others, but in the end, Lincoln is able to convince enough of them that it is the right thing to do.
Lincoln deals with his own internal struggles. He uses the argument that passage of the amendment will hasten the end of the war.  At the same time, the South is showing signs of wanting to talk peace.  Peace would mean an end to fighting but would not preserve the Union nor end slavery.
Lincoln suffers from the loss of life.  He visits the hospitals and the battlefields, sees the maimed and the dead. He wants nothing more than an end to this fighting but he is driven by one over riding belief, that this country cannot endure without freedom for all people.  In the end, he hides the peace overtures from congress, gets passage of the amendment, and the war does come to a swift end. 
Passage of the amendment frees the slaves forever and brings not just peace talks but surrender, and with it, a reunification process of the North and the South that saves the Union.

The Emancipation Proclamation was enacted by Lincoln under his role as commander in chief and freed the slaves in the Southern states.  It did not free the Border state slaves and it's legality after the war would have been questionable. 
The Thirteenth Amendment is clean and simple:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

A good days work?

He stood at the back of the room, just on our side of the privacy curtain, his eyes followed all the activity in the room but they always returned to his wife, laying on the stretcher, fighting for life.

She had a long history of breathing issues and recently had been hospitalized with pneumonia.  They took this opportunity to visit the casino.  While walking she had become sort of breath and collapsed.  Medics arrived quickly.  They inserted a breathing tube and an "IO", (an IV line directly into the leg bone because it is the quickest to achieve), they administered oxygen and medications and began CPR.
She arrived in the emergency room in asystole, no pulse, flat line.
We continued CPR and administered our many meds, epinephrine, atropine, sodium bicarb, iv fluid.
Twice we got a pulse back, only to lose it again. We were about to call it when we got a pulse again, weak and with a very low blood pressure.  We struggled to keep her pulse and improve her blood pressure.  We started not one but two vasopressors, medication to improve blood pressure.  She stabilized, still no breathing, but a pulse and a decent blood pressure.

When she first arrived the medics told us the husband would be there soon.  We asked that he be taken to the family room so that we could speak with him. 
Somehow he found his way into his wife's room on his own, and there he stood near the privacy curtain.  One of the nurses briefly went to his side to explain that his wife's chances were not good but that we were doing everything we could.  At a time like this someone should have stayed with the husband, but the patient needed all of us.
When time allowed, our doctor went to him and asked about her wishes and whether she had an advanced directive, she did not.

When she stabilized it was just about change of shift.  I had spent the last 2 hours helping her fight for life.  I reported off to the oncoming nurse and went to the husband. 
I had spoken to him briefly a few times in the past 2 hours.  I now explained the situation the best I could and told him that a very qualified nurse was assuming care.  I asked if he had any questions or if there was anything I could do for him.

He thanked me.

Walking to the break room on my way out, I ran into our doctor.  I told him "good job".  He said he couldn't feel good about it because he felt she had been without a pulse too long and felt the husband would face very tough decisions in the next few days. 
On the ride home I ran the events of the afternoon though my head.  Had we done the right thing?  Had we set the husband up for more heartache?  Would we have tried for so long had the husband not been in the room?  Maybe we had given him the opportunity to see that everything possible had been done.
We had run a good code, we had done our job, but had we given him his wife back?