Sunday, July 28, 2013

Beach Time

Spending some time at the beach has made me realize what a gift our state and national beaches and parks are.
The foresight of those individuals who sought to preserve small sections of nature for the preservation of wildlife and the enjoyment of future generations was remarkable.
The beaches are a great example of how many can share the same resource and all can enjoy.
If I'm lucky I come to the beach for one week a year and maybe a day here and there, and stay for 6 hours or so at a time.  I don't need my spot the entire day and I only need it on the days I can be there, so someone else can use it the rest of the time.  I don't own it, they don't own it, and yet, we both get to enjoy it.
I don't have to worry about it while I'm not there, I pay no property taxes on it, I have no maintenance bills, no condo fees.
We have a staff that maintains it and we pay through our taxes and an entry fee.

It's a great concept
It's as American as apple pie.
Billy Joel even sang about it.....

Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers in the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
And we're living here in Allentown

I love the state beaches.

I just hope they don't realize it's socialistic and try to shut them down.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dad's hand on my shoulder

There is a church that my Dad attended in his last years near the beach house that we stayed at recently.  Over the years I have had a couple of experiences of closeness to Dad while in this church or jogging past it. Feelings like he was still with me as I journeyed through life.  During periods of family struggles it has given me the strength to go on, the feeling that he was telling me, "It will be alright."
This trip, I felt like he was close to me again, like a hand on my shoulder.  This time I was dealing with a tragedy at work, with a group of my union sisters in labor and delivery.  They had just experienced a tragic infant death and because I have come to know them, I too, was experiencing a part of that, and also, trying to formulate a response.
It felt like Dad was behind me, hand on my shoulder, not saying anything, but somehow letting me know that my union efforts had purpose and that I was on the right track.
Never for a minute have I doubted that he would have been pleased with my decision to become a nurse or to help form a union.  That is totally consistent with his beliefs, but the spiritual warmth of his hand on my shoulder is something that buoys my spirit and warms my heart.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

AFT Healthcare

Having just finished 3 guest blogs by the 3 presidents form L+M hospital, I'd like to try to explain what the help and support of the other AFT Healthcare Locals means to the Backus Local and to me personally.

AFT has 5 divisions, Healthcare being one of them and being the fastest growing.  It is made up of Registered Nurse locals, LPN/Tech locals, and Healthcare Worker locals.  Each of us brings our own issues and strengths to the table and we work as one to solve all of them, for the good of our members, our families, and most importantly, our patients. The division is led by Mary McDonald, one of the 5 Divisional Directors.

In our drive to organize and obtain a first contract the AFT Healthcare Locals were critical, offering advise and support every step of the way. They were there at our rally, our informational picketing, our planning sessions and our negotiations. This is not to say we could have been successful without the help of the locals of the other 4 divisions.  After one AFT sponsored trip to Washington to lobby legislators for help, I kidingly thanked my brother Mike, a member of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, for paying my way. His response was "no problem, you can pay me back when you start collecting dues."
That's how it works, one member helping the other.

This help is why, when the National Federation of Nurses, a union of 28,000 RN's, voted to affiliate with AFT, I was glad to participate in their orientation.  It's our way of paying back.

The Connecticut Healthcare Locals have been our guides and our mentors.  The relationships between the leaderships of the locals is close and special.
The three L+M and one Backus Locals are especially close, often acting as one.
( I have been known to refer to the Backus Federation the 4th L+M local)
One example is the new car deal we negotiated for our members at Valenti Auto, but there are so many other examples, like our joint visits to Congressman Courtney and Senators Murphy and Blumenthol in Washington, to lobby for a fair vote and contract at Backus and again for fairness at L+M when the hospital tried to eliminate union jobs by shifting the work to LMPA (a division within the hospital) (ed note-the National Labor Relations Board has sided with the Union on this).

Lisa, Stephanie, and Harry, the three L+M presidents, or as I like to call them, The Three Amigos, are my closest personal mentors.  Each has their own personality, their own strengths, their own way of doing things. They have accepted me, not as the new kid on the block, but as an equal.  They are always there for me, always ready to support, advise, and guide,and yet, always ready to listen too.

AFT has the strength of 1.5 million members, each supporting the other, and yet we maintain autonomy at the Local level.  I think it works well.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stop The Bleeding

We finish our series of 3 guest blogs from the L+M Local presidents with Harry Rodriguez, President of Local 5123 Healthcare Workers, telling us that together, we are strong.

As I sit here and write this article for our Tri-local Newsletter, I can't help but think about Solidarity, Unionism and the ability to work together in order to meet the goals of a good, decent and strong contract. The only way we are going to achieve these very important issues, is by sticking together.
What does that mean? It means listening to your Union leadership and backing them up as they fight hard for our contract. Coming to the negotiations has an incalculable impact, your presence sends a powerful message to management, one, that you care and two, that you are paying attention. Have you emailed your president to change contract language? Have you volunteered to be a part of the negotiations? Only together can we make changes to our contract. Only with solidarity can we organize and bring changes to short staffing, not needed and other issues which affect your working conditions.
You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Let us, together, be part of the solution. Standing strong, side by side until our goals are met. We must activate to bring change. We must formulate to bring change. We must work together and solidify to bring change. Our union fights for us, for our families, and for our rights. Never forget who you are and where you come from. Once we forget the sacrifices of our past Union leaders, we weaken ourselves. We are not weak. We are strong Unionist who will get a better contract because of who we are. We live in times when people are being misled. Instead of fighting back, we are listening and believing the lies that are being perpetrated against us.
Detractors of Unions blame the economic woes of the United States as being the fault of Unions. Instead of fighting back and demanding from their employers the right to Unionize, they settle for lower wages and lower benefits. Here we are being told that we are in financial trouble. We face layoffs because of our state legislators not fixing the budget. However, no one is upset about all the monies that are going out. We have bought Westerly Hospital for $69,000.000.00 million dollars. Our CEO has promised no layoffs for 2 years at Westerly. We are spending $35,000,000.00 million dollars on the Cancer Center. We have renovated the lobby at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars (The waterfall has
been shut down because no one can fix it. Waste of money if you ask me.) We are renovating 4.2 at the
cost of millions of dollars. We have capitol expenses everywhere.
Now, these expenses by themselves could be absorbed, however, all at once is financial ruin. In addition, you throw in the fact that our reimbursement from the state and the feds are being cut, well..... I can see why we are heading into a black hole. In the midst of this NOT ONE OF OUR TOP TEN VP'S AND CEO HAS TAKEN A PAY CUT. As a matter of fact THIER PAY HAS INCREASED DRAMATICALLY IN THE PAST FEW YEARS. They have laid off workers. (44 this year to date) They have negotiated the lowest pay increase for the Healthcare Workers in the last five years, citing bad economic times. We believed them and wanted to do what was right to save our hospital and keep it open, thus the 2% increase for our membership.
However, they (unknown to us at the time) continued to get hefty increases some over 10% a year, bonuses that are greater than most of us make in a year. Now they are planning more layoffs. The problem with all of this is that they are not talking about freezing their own salaries. Really, $700,000.00 thousand dollars is not enough to live on. Shame on all of you. How dare you say that we are suffering financial problems when you are siphoning millions of dollars in excessive salaries? Then like the cowards that you are you throw the board under the table and say that they set the salaries and we have no choice but to take the money. We need to find out who these crazy board members are that are GIVING AWAY SO MUCH OF OUR HEALTHCARE DOLLARS, while we sacrifice our yearly increases, which we thought were going to help the hospital reach its goals and help to stabilize our financial situation instead, are going into the pockets of these carpet baggers who will one day abandon us for greener pastures somewhere else.
What is it going to take for us to stand up and say ENOUGH? Fight for your rights and families. Fight the injustice of CEO and company abuse. Fight the carpet baggers who are killing our hospitals. Unionize, organize, and agitate.
In Solidarity,
Harry Rodriguez, President
Local 5123 Healthcare Workers

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Bottom Line

Today continues our series, part 2 of 3, of guest blogs from the Presidents of the L+M Locals.
Today, Stephanie Johnson, President of Local 5051 LPN/Technologists tells it like it is.

Once upon a time there was a small community hospital that was committed to improving the health of the region. This hospital was well respected in its community and its staff was well thought of by the management and the public it served. For many years this was an idyllic setting, where patients could come, be taken care of by someone they actually knew because they were from their community as well. The patients felt good about this care because the staff was committed to the hospital, its mission and their work.
That was then, this is now. Fast forward a few years to 2005 when the hospital had a new regime take over. The front line staff at the hospital hasn’t changed much, many loyal employees, some of which have been in their employ for several decades. What did change? The attitude that healthcare is more customer service than patient care. The belief that loyal, well trained staff is easily replaced instead of valued and respected. That safety is a word we throw out only when big agencies are watching. That culture changes because the word comes down from the top instead of being an exemplar of change, not using fear but leading by example. The premise that the unions were not here to stay and we could be easily broken apart.
The relationship the unions have had with this hospitals current leadership has been rocky from the start. Why you may ask? We dare to challenge the hospital’s ability to change terms that are specifically spoken to in our contracts. The nerve of us “fear mongers”, as we’ve been called.
One might think we strive to have this contentious relationship but this is simply not true. When respect is given in a relationship and opinions are welcomed and actually encouraged, a strong working relationship can and will develop. This is not the approach taken by many members of leadership. We have things that we work on together such as the annual United Way campaign which is successful every year. So why not have the same approach when it comes to the day to day dealings.
The Union is here to protect workers’ rights with respect to wages, hours and working conditions. You would think these issues would be something the hospital and the union wouldn’t be too far apart on. Safety; everybody wants a safe working environment. Yet it’s a fight for the unions to have a say in safety. Hey, we’re just the people working in the areas that have the experiences…you would think we might know a little something about what may work best in our areas.
An open role for dialogue between leaderships is what is necessary to keep this ship afloat. Respect for the clauses in each of our contracts, written out of necessity not just for fluff. Respect for the workers who carry out this hospitals mission statement day in and day out. Respect for the actual work we do, noting that not everyone can do the special kinds of care that we deliver. Respect for the knowledge we workers have and our many years of experience. We just found our bottom line.
In Solidarity,
Stephanie Johnson, President
Local 5051 LPN/Technologists

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why Union?

Today begins a series of 3 guest blogs, one from each of the 3 Local presidents of L+M Hospital.  Individually they are each a well written piece, but taken as a group, they are compelling.
The first is from Lisa D’Abrosca, President of the RN's.

Local 5049 RN’s I want to take this time to focus on the newer members of our union. First, I want to welcome you all! Second, I want to tell you a little bit about what it means to be a member of this union.
Belonging to a union means that you have a voice. It can be very scary to be brand new in a job where you hold peoples’ lives in your hands. Lots of questions and concerns can go through your minds, and it can be uncomfortable to speak up. Union membership means that you can come forward if you have questions or if you see something that doesn't seem right without the fear of retaliation.
Belonging to a union means that you have fairness in the workplace. You have the protection of the union contract that states no employee will be disciplined or terminated without just cause. That means in order to be disciplined in any form, the boss has to have a valid reason with legitimate evidence to back it up. Because of the contract, the union members have the grievance process to adjudicate a discipline or termination if there was no substantial reason for it, or if the boss cannot produce adequate evidence.
Not only do you have fairness when it comes to the big picture (i.e. discipline and termination), you also have fairness when it comes to other benefits. Never will you alone have to bargain your own wages, benefits, or hours of work. Collective bargaining is the process by which the union leadership and management bargain over the contract: the document that binds the hospital to said wages, benefits, and working conditions. The union contract ensures that everyone will receive the same pay raises, that everyone will receive the same benefits, and that everyone will be held to the same standard of care. The contract also makes clear the use of sick and vacation time—maintaining a guideline that affects everyone.
Belonging to a union means that you have resources. You have your local union leadership that is almost always available to answer questions and help solve problems. But not only do you have resources at the local level, you have the full backing of both the state and national levels of our union with all of their resources, as well.
Belonging to a union means that you are not alone. There are 500 other RNs who come to work at L&M every day. These nurses experience the same hardships that you do, and have encountered situations similar to those you have encountered. There are monthly meetings where RNs come and air their concerns and ask their questions with the assurance of utmost privacy and confidence. These meetings take place on the first Thursday of the month at 3:30 pm at the union hall.
Please come and get involved. The leadership of the union is not the union, YOU are the union! Remember, we were all new at first. Stick with it, and soon you will be a veteran union member, too!
In Solidarity,
Lisa D’Abrosca, President
Local 5049 RN’s

Monday, July 8, 2013

Funny Triage stories

I lot of tragic stories come out of the Emergency Department, but a lot of funny ones do too.
Perhaps no place is richer in funny stories than Triage.
Triage , as you know, is a French work meaning "to sort."
The other day we were standing around the ED and sharing stories.
Let me share a few.

Our scale measures in Kilograms, not pounds, because medicine doses are figured in mg per kg.  Many. many times a day a patient will come in and when they find that we want them to step on the scale, they same something like, "O God, I can't even look."  Of course, they do look and then they see a strange number and I tell them its in kilograms, and the same person who couldn't look, who didn't want to know how heavy they are, says,
"What does that mean?"
Sometimes I tell them that its what they would weigh if we were in Canada.

Then there's the shoe removers.
Usually they weigh over 300 pounds and before they step on the scale, they kick there flip flops off.
Or, they're 15 years old with no body fat, and they do the same.
People, how much can flip flops weigh?

I had a guy who weighed 335 pounds, who took his cell phone out of his pocket and set it on a table before stepping on the scale.
It's true, I can't make this stuff up.

One of the best was what another nurse told me.
The guy emptied everything out of his pockets, stepped on the scale, stepped off the scale, and put it all back in his pockets.
This thing is.......... he held everything in his hands while he was on the scale

Then there's the reason for coming in.
How long have you had your headache?
"Like 20 or 30 minutes."
"9 years."
In 9 years you've had a headache every day?
What does your doctor say about it?
"I don't have a doctor."

There's also the pain scale.
On a scale of 0 to 10 how bad is your pain?
No, I mean if 10 is the worse pain you've ever had in your life, what is your pain now, 0 to 10?
No, if 10 is the worse pain you've ever had, including the pain your having right now, what's your pain 0-10?
So, the pain you're having now is worse than any pain you've ever had, including the pain your having now?
OK, 20 it is.

Or this. On a major holiday.
When did your chronic back pain flare up?
"4-5 days ago."
Did you call your doctor?
"I called today, but he's not in the office."

Triage, it's a French word meaning "???????????"

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday America

The Fourth of July is a good time for us to reflect, as a nation, on where we came from, where we are, and where we are going.

We were born out of a desire to have our voices heard and a need for respect.  "No taxation without representation" was less about taxes and money and more about having a say in our own destiny.
We built a country of affluent, poor, but most of all, a large group in the middle, with a new name, the "middle class."  It was this middle class that carried us to be a world power and a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
Today that middle class is smaller, too small I believe, for our experiment with a people's government to survive without correction.  The divide grows between the 1% and the 99% and with it the dream of working hard and improving one's life becomes less and less of a possibility. The divide in ideology becomes more important than the good of the entire nation. An obligation to each other and future generations becomes unimportant.  Compromise becomes a thing of the past.  Government becomes paralyzed.

Where we go from here is up to us.  We can reclaim the American Dream, if all citizens shed the shackles of indifference, if we believe again that the voice of the people is what should govern us.
We need to vote, to elect those who hold to the principle that this must be an exclusive nation, that the needs of all are our responsibility, and who understand that in such a diverse nation, compromise is not a sign of weakness, it is what makes us great, what makes us American.

Then and only then will we be able to stand with our forefathers and say "no taxation without representation", hear me, listen to me, respect me!

Our constitution, crafted by those who's ideals shaped the country, gives us the right to do just this.  Destiny gives us the obligation.
The question is, will we rise to the occasion?
I remain optimistic that we will.  I continue to believe that we will stand together, recognise our differences, recognise our responsibility to each other.
I believe we will grow tired of elected officials who refuse to compromise, who's main roll is to prevent government from functioning.

Then we will be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Then the good of the entire country will come before the good of the powerful.