Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Turn the other cheek

Although I eventually caught up, I was always one of the smallest in my class in grammar school.  Partially because of that I was a target for bullies.  We used to walk about a mile home from school and sometimes I would get pushed around by larger and older kids.  One day, as this was happening, my Dad's car pulled up, he jumped out, and gave a tongue lashing to the bully. I don't remember my Dad and I speaking of it and I don't remember being picked on again.

My only fight ever in school happened a couple of years later when I stood up for a classmate who was repeatedly picked on by the class bully.  The kid was what we would now call a nerd, he didn't stand a chance.  The bully had issues, and to make himself bigger in his own eye and in the eyes of the other kids he would pick on this nerd on a regular basis.  One day I had enough and told him to stop.  That lead to a short fight between us that was more wrestling match than fight.  I'm sure he had the best of it, and I'm ashamed to say I don't know how the nerd made out after that, but I gained the respect of the bully and my classmates.

At the same time, I was being taught in church and school to "turn the other cheek", to choose non violence.
To this day Gandhi, King and Jesus are my heroes.

This has caused me internal ethical conflict, and I wonder if others feel the same.

Then I heard an explanation that helped.
The Gospel of Matthew says,
 "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

At the time of Jesus, indeed even today in some parts of the world, only the right hand would be used to strike someone because the left hand was used for unclean purposes.  So, striking someone on the right cheek would require a strike with the back of the hand.  At that time striking someone deemed to be of a lower class with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance.  Today, we use the remark, "I'll give you a backhand" and "backhanded compliment" to mean much the same thing. 

So, if after being struck in such a demeaning manner, the victim then turned and offered the other cheek, he would force the offender to strike with the open right hand, because using the left hand was forbidden.  However, sticking with the open hand was something that was done as a challenge or a punch and was seen as a statement of equality.
Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect demanding equality.

When seen in this way, "turn the other cheek" is far from a passive, submissive statement, it is a statement to demand respect and fair treatment in a nonviolent way.
When I study the lives of Gandhi and King it is obvious that they understood it in this way.
When I study the life of Jesus it is obvious that he believed in nonviolence, but he equally believed in the dignity of each person, and he was far from passive, he challenged authority and he challenged their thinking and way of acting.

So, in this light, the actions of my Dad and the lessons I learned are consistent with what I was taught. 
Violence is to be avoided, conflict is not. 
It is noble to stand up against that which denies dignity and respect and fairness but it is just as important how you do it.
I like to think that I follow these giants down the path they blazed and that I will do my part. When it is my turn, I plan to stand firm when struck and turn the other cheek. I pray I have the strength to do so.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Negotiation Update, 1/27/12

You know the background.  We voted to join together as a union May 11, to gain a voice for ourselves and our patients and to demand the respect we deserve.
In August we gave management an entire contract proposal.  They have had 8 months to adapt to the idea that we are standing up for ourselves, 6 months to consider our proposal and let us know what they think and where they stand.
They promised to come to us this week with economic proposals, something they had not done after 8 months.We met twice this week, for 12 hours.
They responded to our August proposals on shift and weekend differentials, on call status, charge pay, bereavement, jury/court appearance, FMLA, and military leave.
Most of these are current policies. 
We can agree to jury/court appearance and charge pay.  The rest need clarification and/or more negotiating.

They did not respond to our August proposals on overtime, holidays, sick time, dependent care days, wellness days, child care center, personal leave, disability leave, vacations, tuition reimbursement, insurance, pension, 403B, or wages.

After 8 months of us organizing and 6 months of negotiations we are no closer to knowing where they stand on these issues. 
To be honest, I don't know if THEY know where they stand.

What does this mean?
There are two thoughts that come to mind. 
Either they are still intent on busting our union or they hope to stall long enough that we tire and accept whatever they are willing to propose.
I'm getting mixed messages.  On the one hand they have hired a new human resources director who has successfully worked with a union at another hospital and but then they announced a new vice president/chief nursing officer who is on record as being strongly anti-union.

What are our options?
I see 3.
1.  Accept whatever they propose.
2.  Strike for what we deserve.
3.  Engage is organizing actions.

Number 1 is unacceptable,
2 is something none of us want and is not being considered at this time. 
That leaves us with number 3.
(commercials, reaching out to board member, doctors, the community, other union brothers and sisters, our political friends, and attending negotiations and rallies)

We have to remember that EVERYONE HAS A BOSS.  The hospital lawyer and the hospital negotiation's team answer to the CEO and he answers to the board of directors.  In practice the board should answer to the community.

We have a responsibility to stand up for ourselves, our families, our patients and our community. 

We will fulfill that responsibility.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Food Drives

A couple of recent newspaper articles caught my attention.

One was in the Diocese of Norwich's monthly paper, Four County Catholic and the other was in the Norwich Bulletin.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development unveiled a new initiative, the Poverty USA campaign, to promote a better understanding of poverty in America. 
According to the U S bishops' conference 15% of Americans and nearly 25% of children live in poverty.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, who leads the new effort, notes the widespread scourge of poverty in America and the importance of finding solidarity with those who struggle in any capacity.

"We march with immigrant families toward a society made stronger and safer by their inclusion," he said.  "We embrace the mother and her unborn child, giving both of them hope and opportunity."  "We measure our own health by the quality of care we give to those most vulnerable.  We labor with those whose work is burdensome."

At the same time an article appeared in the Bulletin about a severe food shortage at the St Vincent de Paul food pantry in Norwich.

I contacted Dan Durant, community outreach organizer for AFT CT, asking if we could help.
We have already done a food drive with the United Way and a blood pressure screening at St Mary's in New London and Dan coordinates these for us.
I was not the only one who noticed, as evident by the following that also appeared in the Bulletin.

Many thanks to the kind and generous people of Norwich and the greater Norwich area. After an article describing the shortages of food at St. Vincent de Paul Place appeared in The Bulletin, you repeated the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Food has been coming in — and just in time. Thank you.
The article did not mention a most valued partner agency, the Gemma Moran Food Center run by United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, the backbone of the fight against hunger in our region. They are the largest single source of food for St. Vincent's. Each week, we get close to 3,000 pounds of food from the center in New London — that's two pickup trucks filled to overflowing. Not recognizing their help was like not acknowledging our right-hand man. Thank you again and God bless.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Harold Lindner Food Pantry coordinator, St. Vincent de Paul Place.

As Bishop Soto said, "We measure our own health by the quality of care we give to those most vulnerable. We labor with those whose work is burdensome."

We have a fundamental responsibility to help our fellow man, as health care workers we have an even greater responsibility.

We cannot cure all the ills of society, but we can do our part.

The 4 AFT locals at L+M and Backus will hold food drives with the United Way to help out.
January 28,    Groton Stop and Shop,     9-2         (the 3 L+M locals)
February 4,    Norwich Stop and Shop     9-2        (Backus Federation of Nurses)

If you can help out for an hour or so please let us know.  If you can stop by and donate food, please do.

Together we can make a difference.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The gloves are off

We voted May 11 to form a union. We started negotiating in August and gave management a complete contract proposal. Management has had 8 months to come to grips with the fact that we are a union and get serious about negotiating with us.
To date they have refused to discuss any economic issues, nothing about pay, sick time, vacations, holidays, benefits, insurance, nothing! They continue to want to talk about nothing but "nuts and bolts" issues, about how the union/management relationship will function.

Now, this is important, but 8 months!
Come on.

We unionized because we want a voice and we want respect. Management continues to deny us that voice, that respect. They will not negotiate with mutual respect, they will not even agree to call us by our chosen name, the Backus Federation of Nurses, in the contract.

Why? What are they up to?

I cannot read their minds but one real possibility is that they wish to stall long enough so that we give up.

Enough is enough!

We gave them time to negotiate with respect and they have failed to do so. Now we must stand up for ourselves and demand respect. It will not be easy. I am a nurse, not an activist, but it is not only us and our families that suffer when we are disrespected, it is our patients, our community, and our hospital.

We've been extremely patient, the gloves are now off........or, since we're nurses, maybe I should say the gloves are on!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Backus employees know the truth

"We all know that the hard work of bargaining does not occur through commissioned polls, television ads or in the newspapers. We remain committed to good-faith negotiations at the bargaining table, not in the media" Backus Hospital spokesperson Shawn Mawhiney said in today's newspaper.
Oh really?
Then why did I just get word through a friend at the Norwich Bulletin  that one of their editors is writing an editorial denouncing our recent telephone survey as being not fact based and bias? Could it be because David Whitehead's last job was at the Bulletin?
Here is the truth.
Our poll was an independent poll by Benchmark Polling Group. The Benchmark Polling Group conducts independent, scientific polls. They are a unionized business. It is the labor community's policy to use unionized businesses whenever possible.
The poll showed what we nurses already knew.
1. Backus employees feel that they are not listened to by management.
2. Backus employees know that "Pay for Performance" is a sham, it does not judge job performance at all.
3. Backus employees are not happy with their current Health Insurance plan.
4. Backus employees have had pay and benefits cut while upper management has received 28% salary increases.
5. Backus patient's have felt the pain of decreased services and supplies in an effort to save money.

I don't know if the paper will run this editorial. If it does, remember this.....Backus employees know the truth.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Survey says....

Sitting at the negotiation table is a little bit weird for me. It's almost like I need to change hats when I'm there. At work, I'm a nurse. My focus is on my patients. At the table I am one of 450 nurses.

Our recent discussions about schedules might illustrate my point.
We discussed the process for filling open shifts after a schedule is posted. The hospital proposed that if several people volunteered for the same shift then it would go to the most senior person.
I don't pick up many open shifts, just don't have the time. Also,in my department there are so many open shifts that they regularly go unfilled. So to me, this seemed like an idea that would work.
As usual, we took a break to talk it over and I found out that in some departments this would create problems. Certain shifts are preferred and they are filled on a rotating basis so that one person doesn't always get the prime shifts. Relying solely on seniority in these departments would decrease retention of junior nurses, something none of us wants.
We're still working with management on this.

This brings up a larger issue. How do we know what is important to 450 different nurses?

This summer we filled out surveys on what was important to us both in paper form and on line. We have open negotiations and have great conversations with all those who can make it and we meet for updates from time to time in conference room 1 at the hospital. These surveys and conversations, and all the conversations we have in the cafeteria, in the hallways, on the shuttle bus, etc. help keep us all connected and on the same page.

It's also helpful to once in a while do a more formal polling of everyone.
Recently we hired a polling group, Benchmark Polling, to conduct an independent telephone poll of our members to gage their feelings.

172 nurses were reached over 4 days of polling. Normally 10% is considered a large group for statistical accuracy, we had 48%.

Several questions and answers stand out to me.

Have you followed negotiations between the Hospital and the Union?
91% said Yes.

Have you read any of the newsletters/contract updates distributed by the Union?
91% said Yes.

Do you support the current Hospital paid for performance wage system?
11% said Yes.

Do you support the Union's proposal of a wage scale that includes step increases upon a successful yearly evaluation over the current Hospital system?
87% said Yes.

Do you believe the Hospital has bargained fairly?
13% said Yes.

Do you believe the Union's bargaining team has acted in member's best interest?
87% said Yes.

Do you believe the Union has kept members informed?
88% said Yes.

When asked what they would do to help secure a fair contract, 6 of 10 nurses said they would join a rally in front of the hospital.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of the entire poll at work or at one of our negotiations, the next negotiations are next Tuesday the 24th and Thursday the 26th at the Courtyard in Norwich. We will also get it posted on our web page Backusunited.org.

Many of us work a full shift, go home and care of children or older parents, deal with mortgages and other bills, in short, we are very busy. And yet, the poll shows we are staying informed and engaged in the process. That's wonderful! This is our union.

The results of the poll are encouraging, they show we are on the right tract.

I have said this before. The journey may be long but we'll get there, together.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tired? No! We're just getting warmed up!

I had this blog written on Friday, it was all about how we've been at this organizing and negotiating for 18 months now and how this week was busy with one meeting and 2 negotiations and how at times, I and everyone else I think, just gets tired from it all.

Then one of my coworkers asked how negotiations went this week. She's come to several of them but couldn't this week. When I said they were going slow her response was what I needed to hear.
She said, "We can be patient, they won't wear us down."

Then I spent this morning in New London at St. Mary's Church.  We were invited by Fr Bob Washabaugh to do a blood pressure and health screening clinic after the 2 masses. 
With me were Kim Carrigan, Casie Kury, and Naomi Yates from Backus and Lisa D'Abrosca from L+M, all nurses, and Dan Durant and Efrain Torres, organizers from AFT CT, and Dan's son, Josh.
St. Mary's has 2 masses, 9:30 in English and 12:00 in Spanish.  People came down after the masses and we would take their BP and answer questions for them.  We had literature in both languages for them to take home.

I did not understand ahead of time how rewarding it would be. 

The opportunity to help in this way was more a gift to me than the gift of our time and experience were to the parishioners of St. Mary's.

At mass, Father had said that when God calls you He expects action from you.  I consider my later in life career change to nursing to be a calling, it has given me much satisfaction and I'm sure I've given back to many people in my work, but this.....this was different.  It's hard to put into words, but if you've experienced it, you know.

So, I had to sit down and rewrite this blog.  You see, I'm not tired any more.

Val Bantley's words of encouragement and the comradery and chance to help this morning were what I needed.

I thought I was tired, but I just needed to be reminded that we are many, we are strong, we are united, and we are doing His work.

On this, the birthday of  Martin Luther King, I cannot tell you how long our journey will take, but our cause is just and our direction is clear.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"The greatness of America is the right to protest for rights": Martin Luther King

Monday we celebrate the birthday of a great American, Martin Luthur King, born January 15, 1929.
Dr King was a Baptist minister, a leader in the civil rights movement, a student of nonviolence as taught by Mahatma Gandi.
In 1964 he became the youngest man ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize and he was posthumously awarded the Presidental Medal of Freeddom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.

He dedicated his life to the rights of the poor and downtrodden, a remarkable speeker, a remarkable man, a remarkable leader, and an excellent example for all of us to imitate.

On March 29, 1968 he went to Memphis, Tennessee in support of the Memphis Sanitation Strike.  He saw workers rights as a fundemental civil right.  On April 4 he was assassinated while leaving his hotel room.

On April 3nd he gave his last speach, "I've been to to mountaintop" in which he called for unity, economic actions, boycotts, nonviolence and challanged the United States to live up to it's ideals.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Technology is everywhere!  Without doubt, there is good in it, but there are dangers also.
In medicine we have a saying, "Treat the patient, not the monitor" It means to treat what you see because technology can fool you.
Have you seen people sitting together for lunch, both on smart phones texting away but not talking?  Now, maybe there's something important going on that they need to deal with right away, but maybe not. 
I've had people sitting in the triage chair text their friends to tell them where they are instead of answering my questions.

I speak from personal experience. You see, I can be a bit of a geek at times and I'm as guilty as anyone, just ask my wife.  We have been at lunch and I have been the one on the smart phone and she's let me know about it.

She's right.

It's more than just rude.  There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a life.  I think it's important to examine how we spend that time.
There is a balance, I'm sure.  Nothing is all good or all bad.

I guess the question to ask myself is this:  Is technology, or anything for that matter, enhancing my life or diminishing it?

One final note, while you ponder this question in your life. 

There are certain blogs, which by their nature, only enhance your life.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Doubt and Faith

We all have doubts at times.  We start a project, unsure if we'll be successful, or start it with utmost confidence, only to have doubts part way through.
When I went back to school I knew it would be a long process because I needed to work full time and raise a family also.  I had doubts.  I almost let my doubts stop me from trying and here were many days during school that I doubted I could continue.
Often, in raising children, we doubt how well we will do and how they will turn out.
We consider a job change or moving to another part of the country, we have doubts.
I guess it's part of human nature.
I heard recently that Mother Theresa had many doubts during her lifetime.  She even doubted God.  If Mother Theresa can have doubts about God who are any of us to question our doubts.

Some would say that if our faith were strong enough we wouldn't have doubts.  I don't think that's true.  I think that faith cannot exist without doubt.
Faith is having doubts but continuing on anyway, with school, work, moving, raising children, or caring for the sickest of the sick.
Often, doubt leads us to having just enough faith to turn to a Higher Power in prayer.
A friend sent me a video from the show West Wing, where the leader of the free world is having doubts.  He even doubts if God is listening to him when he prays.
It's a good reminder that God always listens, sometimes we just don't hear the answer and sometimes we just don't like the answer we get.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Maybe it's just me

My phone rang at 4:22 AM on New Years Day.
My first words of the new year, "what the hell".

I figured it was work, but then I thought, what if it's not. I always worry about family when I get night time calls. I stumbled to the phone in the next room, trying to clear the sleep from my eyes.
"William W Backus" on the caller ID.
The phone had tripped to voice mail by the time I got to it. The message was asking if I could come in early, before my scheduled 7:00 AM start. I collapsed back into bed, my thoughts on how I would be getting up in 30 minutes anyway.
"What the hell", this time silently.
I returned to the phone, called in and told them I would be there as soon as possible.

It's what we do. It's the nature of the business, we can get busy at the drop of a dime. We deal with it. We help our coworkers out.
When the crap its the fan, you know who to call.

It was very busy when I got there. I transported someone to CCU and a few people who had drank too much the night before got rides home and things settled down.

The next day, Monday, the 2nd, was crazy busy. Most of the primary doctor offices were closed. At one point we had every stretcher, including hallways, full and still had 20 in the waiting room. We saw 219 patients before the day was done.

Two things both days had in common, they were "holidays" for supervisory staff and we handled it.

Which brings me to a point.
If you want something done right, don't do it yourself, ask the people who actually DO the job.
I believe our team could handle anything thrown our way and it makes me crazy when someone who doesn't do my job tells me HOW to do my job.

Seems to me that if I thought I had a good idea, and it involved the cooperation of other people to work, I would want to involve the people who do the work from the beginning.

But, maybe that's just me.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

The end of one year and the beginning of another is a natural time to pause and reflect.  That's good.  Too often we are so caught up with life on a moment to moment basis that we fail to take the time to reflect.
Last year was a full one for me.  I started the  year out meeting and getting to know my fellow Backus nurses in a way I had never known them before.  I also meet and became friends with a wonderful group of people from AFT, people who's job is more than a job, like nursing, it is a calling.
In May this all culminated in a successful election and the forming of our local.  It also started a new phase of the work, a long process of preparation and negotiation which still continues.
In March, with Ole's guidance, I started this blog as a way to release some of my bottled up feelings. As the year ends I am closing in on 100 entries.
 That's a lot of bottled up feelings.
In June I testified before the NLRB in Washington about abuses we suffered during our campaign to assert our constitutional rights to organize and collectively bargain.  I also spoke at the AFL-CIO.
In August, Michelle and I travelled to California for a reunion with my cousins.

It was a year of loss too.
Here at home our family dog, Dylan, passed away. It surprised me how much that hurt.
My mother in law lost her battle to cancer, my brother in law lost his mom, and my Uncle John just before Christmas.  They are all missed, but they are not forgotten.

What will the new year bring? Only God knows. We can only imagine and hope.
I hope negotiations with administration will continue and we will sign a contract fair to both sides and things will settle down so Backus can become the hospital it should be. I hope administration comes to understand bedside nurses speak for the patient and it is not in conflict with our mission but it IS our mission. I hope they see our will to work in cooperation to improve Backus.

I do see some encouraging signs.
I think the addition of Karen Knight to the Human Resources department is promising. Although it is still early in our relationship, I have hope we can work with both her and Theresa Buss. Though undoubtedly we will not see eye to eye at times, I think there can be a partnership based on mutual respect. I think we all welcome her to Backus.

In the fall we will have an important election.  I hope for high voter turnout.  I encourage all to register, consider the candidates, and vote.  I know at times that the choices seem poor and it can be frustrating, but I have seen this year how important it is.  As just one example, the NLRB makeup changes by who is in the white house, a pro-worker president means a pro-worker board and greater rights for working men and women.
 For myself, I will continue to write as long as the words keep coming to my fingers.  I will continue to fight for and defend the rights of nurses at Backus and workers elsewhere in whatever capacity I am needed and wanted.
I would like to lose some pounds and get back to a little running but it seams every year that becomes harder. Time with Michelle and my sons and grandchildren is on my list of hopes.
Simple things.

I have seen enough New Years come and go to know that what I think will happen and what will happen this year will vary greatly. The only thing we can do is trust that God will see us through whatever comes our way.

That is really all we need.

Happy New Year