Saturday, April 27, 2013

We're not a contract, we're a Union

What happens when you no longer have a contract, do you still have a union?
So asked Candice Owley, President of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals yesterday.
In Wisconsin, public employees have lost their right to collective bargaining, the same right that I and my colleges at Backus have recently fought for and gained. But while they may no longer work under a contract, they are still a union, because a union isn't a contract, it is a collection of workers joined together for the common good.
We signed our first contract last May, but we formed our union before that.
We formed our union when we started gathering together, discussing common concerns, and coming to a mutual feeling, that we were all in this together and that the way to improve our work lives, the lives of our families and most important, the lives of our patients, was to stand together and advocate together.
It happened slowly, gradually spreading from person to person, department to department, and it continues still.
In the ED it happened one morning at change of shift,
When we walked out to the floor and one of our third shift nurses was having a discussion with the VP of Nursing.  The VP was trying to convince her that we didn't need to join together.  5 or 6 of us went and stood with our sister and before long the VP retreated to her office and a union had been formed.
We had no contract, no officers, no labor/management committee, no collective bargaining rights, no protection of a grievance procedure, but make no mistake, we were a union.
Now we have a contract, and with that certain legal protections concerning wages, benefits and working conditions.  I do not want to minimize their importance, but the contract does not make us a union.
What makes us a union is members using their new found voice, to advocate in the workplace, the community and the capital.
Our union is not limited to the 400 RNs of Backus, it is, and needs to be so much more.
We are a voice for the non union workers, our patients, and our community, and they are part of us.

The AFT Joint Healthcare/Public Employee Professional Issues Conference has been a great opportunity to learn and grow.
Late today we will head home, knowing that we have MANY brothers and sisters, all united in the belief that the workers of this country are what made it great and that we remain the voice for those who have none.
This belief is what makes us a union.