Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A look back at 2014

My mom took ill this year and went to her eternal reward. I share a rich belief with her that we will see each other again and that helps, but there are still times when I think,
"I can't wait to tell mom this," and I have to catch myself.

We started the year fresh off an illegal lockout of Nurses and Technicians at L+M hospital.
Over the course of the next few months, these workers would come to a contract agreement and be repaid what they were owed.
In July, their three presidents would be honored at the AFT National Convention in Los Angles.

The AFT Small Union Task force wrapped up it's work with a January meeting in San Diago, many of it's recommendations would be adopted at the July convention.

A Connecticut AFL-CIO "We are not Wisconsin" rally would lead to a successful get out the vote campaign, involving so many people, so many house visits, so many phone calls.

The Home Health Aides of the VNA of Southeast CT and the LPN/Techs of New Milford/Danbury Hospital organized with AFT CT, gaining a voice in their practice.

One VNA HHA, Donna Miller, testified in Washington before the NLRB about the difficulty organizing on an unlevel playing field.  Later in the year, the NLRB made some much needed rule changes.

We had another successful Healthcare Professional Issues Conference in Baltimore, AFT CT Convention, Connecticut Small Unions Conference, and Connecticut Healthcare Conference.

Our Political Liaison, Carol Adams, attended "boot camp" in Philadelphia and worked on the get out the vote campaign.

Meriden Fed of Teachers President Erin Benham was named to the State Board of Education.

Harry Rodriguez and I took part in Ebola training and planning in Cincinnati with leaders from several unions.

We teamed with the Backus security and support staff union to help at and walk in the United Way Walk Against Hunger.

We deepened old friendships and made new ones.
We started Hope Unions (Windham, Natchaug, Backus) with the other AFT Locals of Hartford Healthcare.
We started Norwich Rising with other unions and the community.

We said happy retirement to Fran Lawrence, AFT Executive VP and welcome to Mary Cathryn Ricker: happy retirement to Mary MacDonald, longtime AFT Healthcare Director, and welcome to Kelly Troutner.

I had the opportunity to sit front row while Harry, Lisa, and Stephanie were honored in Los Angeles, house visit with some of the nicest people during the campaign and tour Ellis Vo-Tech School with my SVFT friends.
I was impressed by the pride shown in the work by the students and instructors and I told them so at their after school meeting.
Education and Healthcare work is more alike than not alike.

In California, Michelle and I came to know two fine young men, the Johnson brothers, and then Michelle and I got some much neeeded R+R as we drove up the coast

We stood up for safe staffing, proper Ebola preparation and training, and against workplace violence.

We started preparations for contract negotiations this spring.

Our Executive board, delegates, and members took a more active role, testifying, taking part in meetings with management, politicians, and other unions.
Our members are our strength. Our members involvement makes us strong.

So, that's a look back.
Tomorrow, a look ahead.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My holiday gift to the labor movement

For me, the spirit of the holidays and the spirit of the movement are the same.

It's about the miracle of a shinning light that may fade, but never goes out, (Hanukkah)
a leader who washes the feet of his followers, (Christmas)
of building a community based on respect, (Kwanzaa)
and of fighting on another day and another year and never giving up. (New Years)

I can think of no one who said it better than Jimmy Stewart in the movie It's a Wonderful Life.

What he speaks about is the spirit of the season and the reason we do what we do.

I share this clip as my gift to you, my sisters and brothers.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Meaning of Christmas

The great philosopher Linus knows how to keep it simple.

Merry Christmas my friends.
Peace and goodwill to all.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas message

Who is this Jesus of Nazareth whose birthday we celebrate this week?
I think he is many different things to different people.
Some say he came into our world with a purpose, to save us from our sins by dying on the cross.

I think he came to save us from ourselves by showing us how to live.

When he said on his last night, at the Passover table, "do this in remembrance of me," I think a part of what he meant was to live as he lived, with a purpose and as an example to others, not on being perfect, but in trying to live by certain principles.
He is called the Son of God, but chose to be born in a staple, to live with tax collectors, fishermen, and prostitutes, in poverty,

On his last night, as a final lesson to his followers, this King of Kings washed their feet,
teaching that those in power should serve those they lead,
not be served by them.
He said, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

His philosophy of life was simple,
We should love one another as God loves us.
We should share our good fortune with those less fortunate.
We should be slow to judge and quick to forgive.
Leaders should serve the people, not the other way around.
God loves all of us equally, there are no "classes" in His eyes.
We should endeavor to set aside "temptations", to travel lightly, coming to know and trust the Father.
We can serve only one God, and "money and greed" is not His name.
God is our Father and we are all sisters and brothers.
Simple, but not easy.

Christmas is a Christian holiday, but they philosophy above is not Christian.
It is universal.

My wish this Christmas is that we remember these universal truths and live by them the best we can.
However you see the Nazarene, I wish you peace.
Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Having a voice

The NLRB has issued rule changes that will make it slightly easier for workers to come together and form a union.

It's not a drastic change, but it helps to somewhat level the playing field.

It removes some of the delay tactics that a business can use to delay the worker's right to vote.
It takes a lot for workers to get to the point of organizing, and it takes a lot of courage.
They don't just all of a sudden get together on their day off, have someone say "What do you guys want to do this morning?", and have one guy throw it out there, "Wanta form a union?"
It takes years of mistreatment by management, layoffs in the face of excess profits, unfair terminations of their friends, and more.

Businesses love to delay.

They use the time to spend thousands and even millions of dollars to try to convince the workers that they are making a mistake, that the business will "take care of them' if given a second chance.
Delay time is used to pressure workers, often with illegal "captive audience" meetings.  These meetings are akin to what you have to sit though to get that free vacation at the condo in Florida. Know what I mean?
Except, if you walk out, you can be fired.
These modest rule changes have been years in the making.

Earlier this year, two of my friends, Ole Hermanson, AFT CT organizer, and Donna Marie Miller, a home health aide at the Southeast CT VNA, who recently unionized, traveled to Washington, and Donna testified before the NLRB in favor of these changes.

Ole and I had done the same in 2011.
The rules where changed then, but reversed on a technicality by the Republican congress.

Ole says this is a small gain.
I love brother Ole, but I have to disagree.

No victory is small.

My trip to DC may not have resulted in a quick and lasting rule change, but it changed me.
I realized on that trip that I was a small part of something bigger than a union of 350 nurses at my hospital, I was part of an international movement to bring fairness and respect to all people.
A movement involving Organized Labor, non union working class people, faith based groups, community groups, and others.
On that trip, I discovered that my voice DID matter.
Once I saw this, nothing would be the same again.
I can do little alone, but together we can do anything!
For me, the movement is based on what I learned growing up.
If you were lucky enough to have more than your neighbor, you should not hoard it, you should share it, because you have it through the grace of your Higher Power.

Some businesses believe this, Costco pays it's workers a living wage.
Others do not.
Walmart underpays it's workers, while the owners reap billions in profits, and the workers have no choice than to rely on government assistance to get by.
They profit, we pay.
They call it capitalism, but it is capitalism without ethics.

But the movement is also about something else.
It is about a nurse being able to speak up and advocate for her patients when profits are put before patients, it's about a teacher speaking up and saying that all students deserve a good quality education and that being forced to teach to the test is the wrong way to go, it's about an airline pilot being able to say safety is more important than schedule.
It's about having a voice.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Conversations Matter

I am fascinated with conversations.
One can learn so much listening to others.
Today we have a guest blog from my friend Jan on this subject.
She is president of SVFT, the AFT Local that represents the teachers at all the State of Connecticut Vo-Tech Schools and she wrote this letter for her September newsletter.

Conversations Matter
By Jan Hochadel, SVFT President
I am learning that it is almost impossible to have a conversation with a teenage son. So this past summer, I bought Jake a ticket to go with me to the AFT National Convention in Los Angeles. It was a long and tiring plane ride, but I had the chance to share the time with him. I drop him off at Platt each day, but most mornings I only receive one word answers to my questions, and other times he is catching a quick nap. During this summer trip, he was stuck with me in a confined space for over six hours and the result was some amazing conversations. He said he enjoyed seeing me in my element, talking with other union people about how we can make the labor movement better.

Sometimes it is the small moments that motivate me, conversations with Connecticut leaders whom I knew mostly by sight. This year, I got to talk to Lisa D’Abrosco and Stephanie Johnson, who led the L & M strike this past fall. I had a long conversation with John Brady, president of Backus Hospital Federation of Nurses, who was a major part of the organizing campaign for his hospital a few years ago. John’s conversations tend to revolve around the awe in belonging to a newly formed labor-management relationship. We talked about the power of a union, how management can no longer make arbitrary decisions without consulting with the union. All of this is new to him, and he is so excited and inspirational when he talks about where the labor movement can go. Though I did not know any of them well, these conversations reminded me why we talk about “brothers and sister” when we talk about unionism.

My conversation with John reminded me of our most recent trip to Kansas this July, when we knocked on doors to ask prison guards to join the union. These people faced working conditions and low salaries that were difficult for us to understand. We asked them to join their coworkers and agree to pay union dues to help improve the lives of everyone – even coworkers who refuse to pay dues. John had to ask his coworkers to face the anger of management, agree to pay union dues, and take the leap of faith that unionism requires.

Oftentimes I think we take this for granted; few of us had to fight for the rights he describes. Don’t get me wrong, we still have to fight to maintain the rights and make them better, but to try and convince a group of people who have never been in a union to give up a portion of their pay, we have to be able to convince them of the benefit in unionism – collective bargaining, a voice in the workplace, the importance of power in numbers.

And we have to continue to build a labor movement that is worth believing in.

When Joe Tripodi, the principal of Wright THS, asked me to speak to the teachers at the beginning of school year, I wanted to talk about something that would connect my experiences in Los Angeles to the everyday struggles these members would be facing. We all know an administrator who sends out emails in droves to the point where teachers don’t have enough time in the day to read them. We also know those administrators who have a clear presence in the halls and in the classrooms, those who take time to have conversations. We all know each of these styles of communicating sets a clear climate in the building. When I spoke at Wright, I wanted to emphasize that ultimately the teachers’ ability to work collectively will mean more to the success of that school than anything else. Collectively we make the climate. We can choose whom we associate with, and the positive conversations we have. Instead of focusing on the negative, if there is a problem we collectively can come up with solutions. The SVFT leadership is always there to help, but it has to start with you. Whether it is the CTHSS, whether it is L&M, whether it is Backus Hospital, the people who do the work have the ability to create the climate. Conversations matter: make them positive, make then constructive, and make them count.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Proper use of power

This was a busy week.
After working Tuesday, I flew to Cincinnati with Harry Rodriguez, the president of the L+M Hospital Healthcare Workers, getting to the hotel about 1:00 am.
Wednesday and Thursday were filled with meetings, discussions, and training at the ICWUC Center for Worker Health and Safety Education, with fellow AFT members and staff, Roger Woods (Danbury Hospital), Bernie Gerard (HPAE) (New Jersey), Darryl Alexander, and Jonathan Rosen, along with members of National Nurses United, AFGE (government employees), AFSCME, IAM (machinists/airline) and CBTU (black trade unionists).

Our discussions involved not only preparation for Ebola, but all infectious diseases.
For instance, virologists have said for years, that it is a matter of when, not if, we have a flu pandemic.
Our goal is to keep our workers and the public safe.
The amount of knowledge and sharing in that room was amazing!
Hopefully it will lead to training programs for many workers.

Immediately after the session ended on Thursday, Harry and I were back on a plane, getting home about 1:00 am, as we both had to work Friday morning.

It wasn't all work, we squeezed in dinner and breakfast with our AFT brothers and sisters. That comradery is always an important part of trips like this, it builds relationships.

Also this week, a decision came down in the Eric Garner death.
His death was a tragic loss, and there seems to have been too many such deaths this year.
I do not wish to pass judgement.
I feel for police, they put there own safety on the line every day.  I also know that racism still exists, that people of color are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, and that bad cops exist.  That does not mean all cops are bad, or that all young black men are criminals.
It's tragic, we need to address it, and I support non violent actions to bring that change about.

These incidents also point to a global problem.
That is, the abuse of power, by anyone who holds such power over another.
Connecticut is a good example, our former Governor will soon return to jail for the second time, caught in an abuse of power.
Politicians and police do not hold a monopoly however.

Business people can abuse power when they do not behave in an ethical manner. When they violate workers rights, when they pollute the environment, when the cut safety corners, when they reap excessive profits while those working for them are not paid a living wage or receive appropriate benefits.

But we who are Labor leaders must also look in the mirror.
Are we good stewards of our members dues?
Do we give equal consideration to all regardless of how we feel personally about them?
Do we treat other Labor leaders and members with respect?
Do we operate in an open and honest manner?
Do we think, always, not what is best for me, but what is best for my members and the society we serve?

We who are leaders, regardless if police, politician, business, Labor, or other, are in an inherent position of power and have with it a higher obligation to act ethically.

Cincinnati was a working trip in the middle of a busy week. We were tired by the end of it. We could have passed on it and stayed home, but it was important to be part of the conversation, so we went.
That does not us special.
That's what we were elected to do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thoughts over Ohio

As I fly on my way to Cincinnati with my union brother Harry, my thoughts turn to where I have been, both in the physical sense, and in life experiences.
I remember my first union trip and writing a blog on the plane ride home.

I traveled with Ole to DC and testified at the NLRB and spoke at the AFL-CIO.
I couldn't believe what was happening. I kept thinking, sooner or later, they'll realize who I really am, a nurse from Connecticut, not someone who testifies and speaks in DC.

There was a time when I felt like that about nursing. When I finished school and passed my boards, I thought, oh my God, what if they find out who I really am!
Now, after 16 years as an emergency room Registered Nurse, I know what I am capable of.  I'm not perfect, but I know I've played a role in saving the lives of trauma patients, the heart muscle of heart attack patients, the brain of stroke patients.
I also know I've comforted many families at their lowest points.

That trip to DC with Ole was many trips ago.
It's always an honor to represent the members of AFT whenever I have the opportunity.
So, traveling over the skies of Ohio, I asked myself, do I sometimes still think, "could all this be really happening to me?"

But I've traveled a long way.  That feeling of being "found out" is gone.

I know I am good nurse and a good unionist.
There is nothing to "find out."
I live my life trying my best to respect and be of service to others.
That's who I am.
I don't do it perfect, but I try very hard.
And that is good enough.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Open letter to my L+M sisters and brothers

My L+M sisters and brothers,

One year ago you gave us a gift.
You showed us how to put others before ourselves.
You stood up for your patients and your community.
You showed us what is possible when we stand together.

Your administration thought that profits should come before patients,
that you would not have the conviction to stand against them,
that you would not have the solidarity to stand strong together,
that the community would not stand with you,
that your political allies would fold,
that the labor community would sit this one out.

They were wrong on all counts.

It was not easy, the outcome was not certain.
It was wet and it was cold.
You had worries about health insurance, lost wages, Christmas presents, and more.
But you sat and talked with each other in the office to work through concerns, you stood under gas heaters on the coldest nights so that the picket line would always be manned, you watched outdoor movies wrapped in blankets to show you remained strong.

And the community!

Like the manna in the desert, the coffee and donuts never ran out. Cars would drive up, a smiling face, a word of encouragement, more coffee, more donuts. 
The building trades cooked breakfast and lunch for you, right there on the street.
The Elks provided anther dinner.
Local bars and pizza offered discounts.
The fire department delivered Santa with toys from your union sisters and brothers.
There were more politicians than at a convention, and they returned again and again.
The shirts and the hats, and the signs showed the breath of the Labor Community that came to your support, including our AFT president, Randi.
Community organizations and community members provided so much support.

You had no way to know that it would turn out this way, but you had faith, you had solidarity, you had leadership, and you had a belief that your patients and your community hospital would suffer if you did not take a stand.

It was a stand you had to take for the same reason you became healthcare professionals,
it's apart of who you are.
Caring for patients is what you do.

Thank you for standing up for your patients and your community.
Thank you for the lesson in solidarity.

In Service,

John Brady
Backus Federation of Nurses
AFT Local 5149

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving message

I wanted to take a moment this Thanksgiving morning and reflect on my involvement in the Labor movement and my thankfulness for this opportunity.

What started as a meeting with Marianne and Ole in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, CT has led me to places and given me opportunities  I could have never imagined.
I have traveled extensively and made friends with labor leaders across this country.  Each friendship has helped me grow and made me more certain that this is the right place for me.
I have celebrated victories and held hands in loses, both professional and personal.  
I have sat at the negotiations table, testified before hearings, knocked on doors, and marched on picket lines.
Where once I was meeting in a coffee shop with organizers, now I am meeting others, telling them they too can find their voice.

I grew up being taught that we should share our good fortune, not step on one another to move ahead. That we should treat all with dignity and respect. That those in authority have an obligation to use their power to benefit others and that they should serve, not seek to be served.
The Labor movement has given me an opportunity to put those beliefs into practice.

My fiend Junior said it this way, "I'm thankful that I've been given the opportunity to be part of the labor movement, and I get to be in it with such terrific people."

I would be remiss (and in trouble) if I did not say I was thankful for my wonderful wife, Michelle, who is so tolerant of the time I spend in meetings and on trips. She understands the importance of the work I am trying to do, and though she is jealous of my time, she places the needs of others before her own. She is an example to me and I am surely not deserving of her.

We all play a role in the movement, whether we are in organized labor or not, by the way we live our lives and the choices we make.  Every day we either advance the cause of fairness and dignity or we advance the cause of selfishness and greed.
I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope you too will take a moment and reflect on your own place in the movement.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Our children are dying.

And it is tragic.

There are many reasons why.  
The proliferation of guns, racism, a more violent society, cutbacks in social spending and psychological care, a growing income inequality gap, and more.
The bottom line is that hardly a day goes by without hearing of another school shooting or another young man of color being gunned down.

And they're our children, all of them.
Whether first graders in a quite New England town, students at a busy university, or young black men in Florida or Ferguson.
They're all our children.
They all die from violence.
They all die too early.
And they don't need to.

I don't know who was at fault in Ferguson, or Florida, or anywhere else, but I believe that we all must take part of the blame.
We prize our personal freedoms, and we should.
But we must balance that with the safety of our children and with appropriate police armament and force.

We must have a willingness to continue the fight for a society of equality, and respect. A society where we invest in psychological care, in our children, and where we extend a hand to help someone up, not to push someone down so that we may gain.
A society where we value our children and each other.

Right now, I don't have the answers.
I have tears. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Danbury/New Milford vote Union Yes!

Today, 228 Healthcare Technical professionals found their voice.

They will benefit from this, as will their families, but most important, their patients will benefit.

The Technical professionals of Danbury and New Milford Hospitals voted to join the RNs and become brothers and sisters in the ever expanding family of AFT.
By doing so, they will be able to advocate for their patients and their community without fear of retribution.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, the greatest role of any Healthcare worker, any teacher, any public employee, is to advocate for their patients, students, and the public they serve.

Sometimes this means speaking against those in power.
That is a difficult thing to do when those in power control your paycheck.

Today, our newest brothers and sisters not only found their voice, they joined the voice of the 29,000 members of AFT Connecticut and the 1.6 million voices of AFT, as well as our brothers and sisters of other unions.

I know the courage it took for them to stand tall. I know the hard work it took. I know the level of expertise it took from our AFT Connecticut staff.

To all of you, I say well done.
Never again will you stand alone.
Injury to one is injury to all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Open Letter to the Nurses and Techs of Danbury and New Milford Hospitals

My sisters and brothers of Danbury and New Milford Hospitals,

My name is John Brady and I am a nurse in the emergency department of Backus Hospital in Norwich.
This Friday you have an important decision that will effect your lives and the lives of many.
For perhaps the first time, you have a vote about what happens at your workplace. 
Think about that.
YOU have a vote.
Has that ever happened at work before?

A few years ago we had the same vote at Backus.
Backus had changed.
It wasn't the community hospital that it once was.
Our opinion wasn't appreciated as it once was.
We were no longer caregivers, we had become an  "operating expense."
Our neighbors were no longer our patients, they were "stakeholders."
"Efficiency experts" had come through like a tornado and left a shell of a hospital in their wake.

It was never about the money or the benefits, as important as that is.
It was about having enough staff, enough time, enough supplies and resources and someone who would listen to us, respect us, and engage us in the proper care of our patients.

I'll never forget sitting in the living room of an oncology nurse's home, with she and her husband on the couch.  
We spoke about our common frustrations with the way things had become in OUR hospital and how, if we stood together, we could change that.  As her eyes started filling with tears her hushand took her hand.  
She said, "John, they took away the peanut butter from MY kitchenette to save money.   Peanut butter that I would give on crackers to my patient if I could get their nausea to subside after chemo, When they did that, I said to my husband, I have no hope."
"Today," she said, "you have given me hope."

Are things perfect today at Backus?
But today, we speak freely and advocate for ourselves, our patients, our community, and our hospital without fear.
If you decide to join us on Friday, you will join 10,000 AFT healthcare workers in Connecticut, 29,000 AFT Connecticut members, and 1.6 million AFT national members in being a voice for your patients.

It is your decision, for maybe the first time in your working lives, your decision.
Better than hope, I promise that never again will you stand alone.

In Solidarity,

John Brady
Backus Federation of Nurses
AFT Local 5149

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ebola lessons

This week, I and 2 other Backus front-line ER nurses trained at Hartford Hospital to be Ebola "super users," which means we can now train others to care for suspected Ebola patients and supervise their care of these patients.
The training involved learning and practicing the gowning up and un-gowning (donning and doffing) of the enhanced PPE (personal protective equipment).
It was a well run program and if we carry through with the plan to train bedside staff it will accomplish what I believe it needs to.

Ebola is a virus that spreads through body fluids. It has killed over 5,000 in people in cases that have laboratory confirmation,  and estimates of 12,000 total, this year, including 186 healthcare workers as of mid September.
Enhanced PPE both protects the healthcare worker and limits the chance of spreading the disease. Eradication of Ebola depends on stopping it's spread, as there is currently no cure or vaccine.

Do I think we will see a suspected case at my hospital?  It wouldn't surprise me.
Do I think we'll see a case that is proven to be Ebola?  I hope not, and the odds are on our side.
However, if we do, the results can be devastating if not managed properly.
That is why I and so many others have worked so hard on insisting that front line workers be involved in planning, training and practicing.

I want to thank my union (AFT) leadership, staff, and members, who have been and continue to help us advocate for ourselves, our patients, and the public.
It has been an uphill battle and yesterday was a big step.
Even if we see no cases of Ebola, I don't know of anyone in healthcare who believes this is the last virus of this nature that will come our way.

The underlying theme in Ebola care is to involve front-line staff, take your time, do things correctly, double and triple check, provide adequate resources, practice, practice, practice, and safety, safety, safety.
It is the theme that should run though all of healthcare, but so often, short staffing and the push to see more patients in less time, conflicts with these principles.
We insist that the airline and nuclear industry practice safely, we should do the same with healthcare.

What I have learned from this experience, is that healthcare workers can use their collective voices, can team with the Departments of Public Health, CDC, OSHA, legislators, and the public, and we can advocate for safety in healthcare.
As my good friend Lesa Hanson said when we were organizing, " I once thought a nurse's role was to advocate at the bedside, now I realize we must advocate at the bedside, the boardroom, and the statehouse."

Below is an example of the enhanced PPE we trained with.
You don't learn this in Nursing School.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank you veterans

It's late, and I'm tired, and I want to be in bed, but I couldn't let Veterans Day go by without saying thank you to the men and women who serve or have served our country.

It is a country that sometimes seems hopeless, unable to get out of it's own way, unable to compromise enough in Washington to get much done, but it is at it's core, I believe, a country grateful to you.

We disagree to the extreme about so many issues: gun control, reproductive rights, the appropriate size and role of government, even our appropriate military role.
But we do so because we live in a country where free speech is a right protected above all else, a right you have fought to ensure.

Retired or active, facing combat or not, overseas or at home, you put us ahead of yourself, and there is no greater gift you can give your fellow man.

So yes, I am tired.  I imagine many of you are too. I imagine instead of a warm soft bed, many of you face or have faced, many cold nights in the field, with little rest.

May God bless you and your service, and may He keep you safe.
Thank you.

Friday, November 7, 2014


This week we had some wins and some loses.
This is my attempt to put my feelings about all this into words:

I've been working real hard, along with a great group of people, on a variety of projects to make life better for my members and workers in Connecticut and across the country.
Ebola, the elections, organizing, community engagement, coalition building between AFT locals and between us and other unions.
It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of energy, by a lot of people.
Frankly, it seems overwhelming at times, and it seems exhausting at times, but never, never, never, does it seem to be not worth the effort.
Sometimes we face opposition from places we expect, like administrations and political parties, and sometimes from places we don't expect. But we carry on because we support each other.
Some of us share close relationships, some of us respect and feel a kinship from a distance.
We may disagree like siblings, but we stand united against opposition.
We win some battles and we lose some, and some we fight to a draw, and some we vow to continue fighting.
Sometimes we reach agreement and cooperation with those who would oppose us, sometimes we have to agree to disagree, and sometimes we have to be a little "bad ass."
We are united in that we fight for a cause, we fight for a movement, we fight for justice, we fight for respect for all.
We are a part of a bigger movement, "the movement", which includes organized labor, and others who share our beliefs that we can do better, that we can be fairer, that we can build a just society built on respect.
To my sisters and brothers in this movement, I want to share my gratitude for your leadership, inspiration, and example to me and others.
I want to encourage you with the words of Timothy:
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
And the music of Dave Matthews:
Everyday, I get in the car, sometimes rested, sometimes not, and I push the CD in and listen to the words. I find inspiration in them as I find inspiration in you.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

If you don't vote.....don't bitch!

There are less than 36 hours until an election that has many very tight races. 
The results of the election could sway the direction of our state and our country for years to come. 
I understand if not everybody wants to be involved in Labor walks and phone banks. 
And that's cool,
I get it. 
However, many have died since 1775 for this country and for our right to vote. 
Many of you have served in the military, or had family members serve, many have lost buddies, lovers and family.  Many others have returned injured.
They had one purpose, to ensure our right to vote. 
Many minorities and women were beaten and even hung in this country, striving for the right to vote. 
If we cannot take 20 minutes out of our lives and vote on Tuesday, do we not disrespect these brave people? 
As Abraham Lincoln said:
that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Please, please, please, vote Tuesday. 
And please, if you don't vote Tuesday, don't bitch

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Friday, October 31, 2014

Our members are our strength

They say you can judge a person by the relationship they have with the people around them. Certainly, this is true in the relationship between a union president and their executive board. The president is expected to lead, but the president is not the "expert." Surrounding oneself with competent, reliable people makes a president's job so so much easier.

I am one lucky president.

My executive board of Melissa, Donna 1 and Donna 2, Marji, Michelle, Jess, and Carol, are backed up by a great team of delegates.  They are my council, my strength, and my direction.
Yoda said, "A Jedi's strength flows from the force."  If that be true, then the membership is the force of the union and that force flows through the delegates and eboard.
And like in the mythical Camelot, we strive for a round table, where each is an equal.
Many a time, their wise council will change my mind, and when it does not, the eboard is not afraid to overrule me, as is their right as constitutionally elected officers.
I do not like being over ruled, but I accept that the process is there for a very important reason. (and they're usually right)
My friend Jan says it this way. Our organization is an "upside-down pyramid."
The members are at the top, the eboard in the middle, and the president at the bottom.

Melissa is by right hand, she is more than capable of representing the membership in any meeting she attends. As VP and Chief Delegate, she also handles grievances and the delegates report to her. She is also handling workplace assaults.
Donna 1 has made us financially stable as our treasurer, she is truly a steward of the members dues.
Marji followed Donna 2 in the role of Secretary and is responsible for keeping up with the ebb and flow of members as they come and go from Backus. They have both done a remarkable job.  
Carol is the best political Liaison ever. Her knowledge level is remarkable and her relationship with those in power serves us well.
Michelle was VP until family obligations forced her to step back, but she is now handling workplace staffing and Ebola prep, and will head up our negotiations committee.  
Jess keeps watch over Plainfield and serves as adviser to me.

The delegates represent their floors and units, representing members in meetings and on grievances.
One of them, Dave, has taken over the newsletter, and is doing a great job.

With all these people doing all this, you may ask, "What do you do John?"
Somehow I keep busy, mostly with issues in the community, the state federation and statehouse, and the national. Every time someone takes over a role, a new one seems to come along. That's OK, because it makes our union stronger.

But what really makes us stronger is our members, because the union is not me or the ebaord, or someone off in Rocky Hill or Washington.  That's the leadership, it's not the union.  The union is you, and you, and you and all of us, standing together as one.  
That is our strength.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I was a small kid, one of the smallest in my class.  Walking home from school was an adventure. A couple of the older kids would have fun at my expense.  Nothing major, just kid stuff, pushing me down and laughing, like that.
One day my dad drove up while this was occurring. I'm not sure if he planned it, or if it was just chance, but it felt like a guardian angel had come to my aid.
He gave them a tongue lashing.
The bullying stopped.

Flash forward a few years to 6th grade. Kevin was one of the few kids in my class who was smaller than I was, what we would now call a nerd.  On top of that, he was always so pale and sickly looking.
George was the class bully.  He never bothered me, I think because I was good at sports so I fit in.
Kevin, he did not fit in, and George picked on him bad.
Usually, when the bullying started, George's crew would cheer him on and the rest of us would stand on the outskirts, knowing that it was wrong, but afraid to say anything.

One day I snapped.  Maybe it was the memories of being bullied, maybe the feeling that by doing nothing, I was still being bullied, I don't know.  But on this day, I stood up to George.
I was no match.
He was bigger, he was stronger.
My only fight in school did not go well.
The nuns broke it up, George got in trouble, and I gained the respect of George and the rest of the class.

Keven is probably a tech giant now. Poor George lived hard and is no longer with us.

I can fall back into the victim role if I am not careful, but if you bully those I care about, or push me too far, I get my Irish up.

In 2011 it happened at work.  They pushed and pushed and pushed, and 350 Registered Nurses, most who had never stood up for themselves before, most who had never been in a union, stood up, stood tall, stood together and against great odds, against Jackson Lewis union busting law firm, against millions of dollars spent against us, formed the Backus Federation, and gained a voice for ourselves and our patients.

It happened again in 2013, when our brothers and sisters at L+M hospital faced a hospital that had lost it's way. Our brothers and sisters stood up and we stood with them in solidarity because everyone knows a Kevin and everyone knows a George, and bullying is wrong.

Bullies will always be with us, in schools and workplaces and elsewhere.
They are small people, trying to put others down so as to appear larger themselves.
When we face them, we will be scared.
But face them we must, because if we do not, others suffer.
If we do not, we suffer.
If we do not, a part of us dies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A nurse's view on teacher tenure

I must preface this blog by reminding you of two things.
First, I am an nurse, not a teacher.
Second, I am a Nurse's Union president in AFT, which represents, healthcare, education and public employees.
I remind you of this because I am not an expert on teacher's issues, although I am rapidly becoming more familiar and I stand in solidarity with our teachers.

That being said, TIME magazine is about to publish a cover that misrepresents teachers and teacher tenure.  I'm told that the articles inside show a more balanced story that looks at the motives of millionaires' attack on tenure and the potential profits from private vs public schools for certain individuals.
Sound like the for-profit movement in healthcare?
My concern is this.  How many will see the cover, but not the articles?

The bottom line is that students and patients should come before profits, and in both cases, it is important to look at motives.  No for-profit company buys a hospital,or takes over a school system, to lose money.

So, what is teacher tenure?
Fair question.

Non union workers in this country can be fired for any reason or no reason. You remind the new boss of the guy who cheated with his wife......see ya!
It's not right, but it's the way it is.
Now, do you want a nurse in that position?
Say the boss orders the nurse to cut corners on your care.
The nurse refuses.
What happens?
The nurse can be fired and sometimes is.  It's legal. It's crazy.
But, if that nurse has a union contract, they have "just cause".  The can only be fired for a "just cause."
Which nurse do you want caring for you?

Now, lets look at education.
The principal or superintendent is pressured by the school board to make sure the star athlete passes classes so that they are eligible to compete for the state championship, even though the student sleeps though class (when they show up), never studies or hands in assignments, and is failing.  The teacher, feeling this harms the student in the long run, refuses to go along. 
Teachers do not have "just cause" contracts. Instead, they have "tenure", by law, which for practical purposes, serves the same purpose.
It means, in our scenario, that the teacher could stand up for the student and what was right.

What about "bad" teachers you ask?

Each state law differs slightly.
Connecticut is typical.
In Connecticut, a teacher must serve 4 years probation, before having tenure.
So, they go through a rigorous hiring process, then the principal, superintendent, and school board have 4 years to observe them, during which time, they can decide not to bring them back for the following year, without explanation or proof of wrong doing.
4 years.
That's a long time to evaluate someone. 

After 4 years, the teacher has tenure, so they can't be fired, right?
The can be fired for “inefficiency or incompetence” based on evaluations, insubordination, moral misconduct, proved disability, elimination of the position where no other position is available, “other due and sufficient cause” or, ineffectiveness."
However, there is a process where the tenured teacher can defend themselves against allegations.  
Have their "day in court" if you will.
Sounds like something our country was built on, innocent until proven guilty.

That star athlete, does he end up winning the state championship and bragging the rest of his life about his "greatest achievement" or does he buckle down, study, go to college, and maybe really benefit mankind?

Nurses are motivated to care for patients.
Teachers are motivated to develop young minds.
Millionaires are motivated to become billionaires.

If you want to help: 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ellis Tech Visit

Thursday was a real good day.
I had the opportunity to tour Ellis Tech High in Danielson, CT with the officers of SVFT (the local which represents teachers at all the Connecticut Vo-Tech high schools), Jan Hochadel, Brian Bisson, and Ed Leavy, and meet with the teachers and students.
In a word, I was impressed.
I grew up in the Danielson area but attended the other public high school in town, Killingly.  I had friends at Ellis.  When I received my community college management degree, most of my classes were at Ellis because they hadn't built the collage campus yet. So in some ways it was like going home.
The school has been rebuilt and it is beautiful.
The first thing we did was have lunch, prepared and served by the students of the culinary class. When we arrived, they were serving 20 or 30 senior citizens from a local senior housing complex, who had come for lunch. The food and service was fantastic, the place immaculately clean.  The instructor came to sit with us and from time to time, one of the students would come near the table, wait patiently until he turned to them, and they would have a question.  Sometimes he would answer and they would be off, a couple of times he excused himself, went with them to the kitchen or the cash register, and instructed them.  It was so cool to watch and each and every time, they would call him "chef."
That respect from the students to the teachers was repeated in every interaction I witnessed.
After lunch, Brian and I toured the shops while Jan and Ed toured the academic classrooms.
Brian would ask about safety and filtration (he handles safety as VP of the local), and how the "climate" was in the building between teachers and administration and teachers and each other.
By the way, let me say how refreshing it was to see an administration respecting the union leadership.
We struggle with that at the hospital.
At the end of the school day and we all met up and attended a meeting with the teachers. Each officer took a turn relaying information, answering questions and hearing concerns. When they gave me a chance to address the teachers I told them how impressed I was in the pride the teachers had in their shops, in their work, and in the work their students and former students were doing.
It was a great opportunity for the president of an AFT healthcare local, and I am fairly certain it will not be my last. There is no substitute for face to face interactions, especially when you can have them in the place people work.
The more time I spend with the education members of my union, they more I believe that although there are differences between education, healthcare, and public employees, there is more similar than dissimilar.
We all instruct, we all counsel, we all look out for the physical and emotional needs of those we serve.
I'd like to thank Jan, Brian, Ed and the teachers and students of Ellis for letting me be part of their day.
After the visit, we headed for New London for a big Labor rally, the Governor's debate, and the after party.
The perfect way to end the day.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I am no Ebola expert.
I am an emergency room nurse and I am president of a 350 member RN union, and I am concerned, and I feel a responsibility to keep my nurses and my patients safe, to the extent I can.
That means working with the Hospital, the Department of Public Health, and my state and national federations to stay updated on all the news and to be a voice in the narrative.
My heart goes out to the people and families who have succumbed to this disease and their families and to the nurses and other healthcare workers who have become sick, potentially exposed, and/or frightened. Healthcare workers worldwide feel a kinship, similar to the kinship felt among unionists. The effected nurses and healthcare workers are my sisters and brothers.
I believe it is prudent for us to be concerned and do all we can do to stay safe, I do not believe hysteria helps us one bit.
Healthcare unions are pushing education to our members and the public. We are advocating for appropriate PPD (personal protective equipment) and protocols to keep patients, public and members, safe.
Healthcare workers do not face the same dangers on the job as say, police or fire.  But we do face physical aggression and in cases like this, viruses.
We want to serve our patients the best we can, and then return home safe to our families.
All workers deserve this.
I ask you to remain calm, to stay informed, and to use your voice to help us contain and eradicate this virus

Monday, October 13, 2014

With Dan you get Nancy

With just 21 days to go the political races are heating up and the race for Connecticut's governor is no exception.
The polls show it a dead heat and there is little love lost between the two candidates.
Presidents Clinton and Oboma visit the state this week to support Dan Malloy, there are two debates this week in New London, Tuesday for Joe Courtney and Thursday for Dan Malloy, and they are both preceded by rallies.
If I spent any more time in New London, I could vote there.
The newspapers are posting their endorsements and I thought, maybe I should do the same.

It will come as no surprise that I support Governor Dan Malloy for re-election.
He has taken a state government deficit and balanced the budget, he has reduced unemployment, he is fixing our bridges and roads, he is encouraging businesses to move into and remain in the state, he is investing in emerging technologies, and more.
He has shown his leadership at Sandy Hook and Super Storm Sandy.
He may be the only governor to be both pro-business and pro-labor, pro gun ownership and pro gun safety.
He understands that they are not opposites, that you can have profits without trampling people, you can own guns and protect children.
He understands that a living wage helps working families and the businesses they visit.

At the very same time that Scott Walker was dismantling the rights of working people in Wisconsin, this governor stood, spoke, and marched with Healthcare workers in Norwich and New London, he sat and negotiated with state workers (yes, he negotiated hard, but, he negotiated), and after a rocky start, he came to understand teachers and work with them on common sense testing reforms, naming one of them, AFT's Erin Benham, to the State Board of Education.

He supports project labor agreements, which promote good paying jobs done right the first time. His investments in infrastructure not only make our state roads and buildings safer, they have led to near full employment in the trades. He raised the minimum wage, supports paid sick days, organizing rights, and collective bargaining.
All this at a time when other governors were doing just the opposite.
While his opponent pines for a "Wisconsin Moment" he says,

When I spoke in favor of his endorsement at this June's Connecticut AFL-CIO Convention I spoke about how he had stood with us while others like Scott Walker stood against us and asked what message did we send to politicians if we failed to stand with him now?

I believe that question is still valid and I believe we all know the answer.

For all these reason and one more, I support Dan Malloy for governor.
The last reason?
With Dan you get Nancy Wyman.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Good news from New London!

There have been two days of good news coming out of our sister Locals in New London.


On Tuesday the RN and Home Health Aides at the Visiting Nurses of Southeastern CT (a subsidiary of L+M Hospital) came to a tentative agreement.  The HHAs recently voted to unionize and join RN Local 5119.

This tentative agreement is covers both RNs and HHAs.  For the 26 HHAs it is finally a chance to be covered by a union contract.

HHAs will get an increase in PTO, regular general wage increases, step increases based on years of experience, just cause protection, expanded workman's comp protection (so they will not lose their job is they are injured doing it), short term disability insurance, car insurance while on the job, company cellphones, decrease in insurance costs, and retirement plan.

These are huge victories to people who make as little as $15/hr taking care of our loved ones.

On Wednesday, the NLRB (the agency of the U.S. Government that regulates private sector workers), ruled in favor of the Union on the LMMG case.


The hospital had moved work out of the hospital to a Medical Office Building less than a mile away, and refused to let the workers follow the work, they fired and replaced them.

This is what led to the legal 4 day protest strike by Locals 5049 and 5051, followed by the 19 day lockout by the hospital last winter, which was deemed illegal and resulted in back pay to the workers of $1.2 million.


Not wanting to leave or forget  the displaced LMMG employees, the union sought to assist them on obtaining a voice on the job. To do this we petitioned the NLRB to organize them by either adding them to the existing L&M unions or claiming them as a separate union/unit.

The NLRB decided to direct an election by recognizing their ability to organize as a separate unit/union.

The Hospital sought to expand the number of workers who could vote by pulling in all the workers from all their outpatient clinics. This is a tactic often used to dilute the pro-union vote (called expanding the unit), and makes organizing more difficult.

The NLRB must determine what the appropriate unit is.


Wednesday, the NLRB found in favor of the Union.

The workers at the MOB will now get to vote to determine for themselves if they should join the union.


This battle has gone on for over two years.

The L+M Locals have stood together as an excellent example of solitary, with each other, the political community, the Labor community, and the community of Southeast Connecticut.


These are amazing wins for the individual workers effected, but they are also wins for all of us.

When we stand in solidarity, we are strong.

When we stand in solidarity, we can put patients, students, and the public, before profits.

When we stand in solidarity, management sees that it just might be better to work with, rather than against, us.

This is what AFT president Randi Weigarten means by "solution driven management".....

and, being a little bit bad-ass.

To these brave women from the VNA we all say congratulations on a hard won and well deserved contract

And to these women at the Howard Street building who are on the organizing committee we say good luck and know that if you stick together you really can make your own workplace a better place to work and receive care.  We are with you, we are one.