Friday, January 31, 2014

Tentative agreement at L+M

Those who read my blog know of the special relationship I have with the 3 presidents of L+M, Lisa, Stephanie and Harry.  They started as my mentors and supporters and they have become my sisters and brother.  You will also know of the courageous stand that they have taken over the past year simply in an effort to protect their members and the community of New London from a hospital that has forgotten it's mission.
Their executive boards, delegates, and negotiation teams have been incredible.
I lack the words to fully describe my admiration for the strength and solidarity of their members.

Fully a year ago, Harry, Lisa, and I, along with Greg, field rep for all 4 locals, traveled to Washington to speak to our legislators on this problem and to have Harry and Greg give a presentation to AFT healthcare presidents about it.  That was the groundwork that would lead to an unprecedented campaign in which the community, politicians, AFT locals, the AFL-CIO, and our brothers and sisters of all unions would join in solidarity and say in one voice, "I am L+M!"

Being illegally locked out of their own hospital for 3 weeks just before Christmas did not dampen the spirits of the L+M workers.  Yes they were cold, worried, and even scared.
But when the building trades cook you breakfast and lunch on the picket line, when other unions and individuals contribute over $65,000 in solidarity funds, when the Governor and his administration, US and Connecticut senators and representatives, the city mayor, and your national and state federation leadership march with you, when people drop off more coffee, donuts, and food than you can eat, when the United Way opens it's arms to you, when the Elks cook you a pasta meal, when the AFL-CIO donates Christmas presents for your kids, when the entire community comes out to support you............ warms you up, it eases your worries, it gives you strength.

After 7 days of an Unfair Labor Practice Trial, the United States and AFT v L+M Corporation, there has been a breakthrough.
A tentative agreement will be voted on by union membership on Monday.  If ratified it will settle both the ULP and the contract.

I am so proud of my L+M brothers and sisters, proud of my own members, many of whom grew to understand the word "solidarity", proud of my state federation and national federation, all it's members, leadership and remarkable staff, and proud of the labor/community movement.

In a time when personal profits are often the guiding light, we have seen a better light, a light that shows that people can come before profits.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Finding our "calling"

What are we called to do?
When I think of this question, my thoughts immediately go to people like Gandhi, King, Mandela, Jesus, and Cesar Chavez.
Who but they could have done what they did?
We've all met people of whom we say, "They were born to do that."
Often, we think of clergy or religious as being called, but non religious are also called, we all are.
Some people are called to the missions, to help people, often in other countries but also in our own.
I believe nursing and health care is a calling. But I've also know nurses to whom nursing is not their calling.
Your favorite teachers had probably found their calling and maybe your favorite coach.
Some professions lend themselves to us thinking of them as callings, but I think all professions can be callings.
I think it's more they way the individual person thinks of, and approaches their work that makes it a calling.
I've met taxi and bus drivers who can brighten my morning with their warm greeting and ease of laughter, with their willingness to tell stories and listen compassionately to my worries.
To many of us social activism is a calling.
To start, we must have a passion for it, a willingness to work long and sometimes difficult hours on it.
It's something we could not, "not be doing."
It is a passion, but more than that.
What makes a passion a calling is a belief that in carrying it out we are fulfilling part of our purpose in life.
Most important, we do it not because it benefits us, but rather, it benefits others.
Their is an ethical component to a calling.
So, a banker or a manager or a CEO, may have found their calling.  It's not that they are good at what they do, although that follows as a side effect.  It's that they are driven to it out of an inner need and they are not motivated by personal gain, but out of how they can help others.
We can have more than one calling in our lives, they can change over time.
How do we find it?
The answer to that is in the name.
A "calling."
We need to be listening for it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The people have decided

"But L+M's take-no-prisoners stance - the current case started with a NLRB ruling in favor of the union complaint - seems surprising for a community institution."  So Says David Collins, who is not a union member, not a union organizer, but a staff columnist for The Day Newspaper.
It's an expensive stance, as Mr. Collins points out, with a team of Boston lawyers and CEO Bruce Cummings' "big team of vice presidents, each paid in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year" looking on as Cummings took the stand.
"Even with it's tens of millions stashed offshore, L+M is still a product of the community," Mr Collins continues.

Hospitals across this state and indeed, across this country, are watching this trial.
I fear they are watching to see what L+M gets away with, so that they may try the same.

If so, they are completely missing the point.

They should be watching to see, whatever the outcome of the trial, how L+M has already lost.
They have lost the community's support, the very community they were built to serve.

Healthcare institutions, and hospitals in particular, do not exist to make large personal profits for the people at the top of the corporate ladder.
They exist for one reason and one reason only, to care for the sick and their families.
They have an ethical responsibility to do so.
The trial will be decided in Hartford, but the people of Connecticut have already decided.

How do you find in the case of L+M not upholding it's ethical responsibility to the community it serves?
In the case of L+M illegally firing it's own workers, replacing them, and denying those replacement workers collective bargaining rights?
In the case of L+M illegally locking out it's own workers for three weeks?
How say you people of Connecticut?


Monday, January 20, 2014

Thank you Dr King

Thank you Dr King for showing us how to life as we were meant to live. Not as white, black, brown, yellow, or red. Not as catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. Not as English, Pole, or Chinese.
But as brothers  and sisters of the same loving Father, by whatever name we know Him, whatever  color we see Him as, whatever language He speaks to us in.
Thank you for reminding us that non violence is the way to our destiny.
That all people, no matter their station, deserve respect.
That their is dignity in all work.
That it is our duty to care for one another.
And mostly,
That there is always hope.

Friday, January 17, 2014

On trial: Respect for workers

Right now, in Hartford Connecticut, a trial is taking place. 
The United States of America and the AFT v L+M Corporation. 
The issue: respect for workers, respect for a contract, and putting patients first. 
L+M has moved work "off campus", fired the workers, replaced them, and refused them collective bargaining rights. 
In short, they have broken their contract with their own workers. 
The government of the United States of America agrees with the workers and has joined the union in the trial. 
I am incredably proud to belong to a federation of workers who are standing up and saying NO!
I am equally proud of our union staff members and leaders, at the state and national level, for the remarkable work they are doing. 
I am most proud, of the members of Locals 5049, 5051, and 5123, and their remarkable leadership. You have shown the rest of us how to stand tall. 
I have a special place in my heart for your presidents, Lisa, Stephanie, and Harry, my good friends, my mentors, my sisters and brother. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reclaiming the Promise

Yesterday, Erin Bentham, president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers, gave a presentation on the cooperative initiatives between her Local and the superintendent's office.
It's a cooperation based on mutual respect.
It ties into the AFT initiative, Reclaiming the Promise, which calls not for a return to how things were in the past, but to how it can be.
It calls for neighborhood schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning, for early childhood care and education, first rate public services that support communities, affordable higher education, the promise of a secure retirement, and a healthcare system that puts patient care and safety above corporate profits.
As we wrap up the work of the task force, it is obvious to me that this will take all of us in the AFT and since small Locals are such a large portion of our union, our involvement is critical.
It has been an honor to meet, work with and learn from such wonderful people. We come from different backgrounds but we are united in the belief that we can make a difference.
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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Small Local Unions Task Force says "I am L+M!"

Rod Sherman, the chairman of the AFT Small Local Unions Task Force, started today's meeting by asking me to give an L+M update.
"I was in a meeting when I got your email. I clicked a link, pull led out my credit card, and was able to donate."
He, like others was vested now. He, like others, was saying "I am L+M!"

I reminded them that my small Local would not exist without the support of the L+ M and other AFT Connecticut Locals. 
Sitting to my left was Erin Benham, who with her Meriden Federation of Teacher members, walked the line in New London.

I reminded them of the issue that led to the strike, the illegal moving of work out of the hospital and denial of union representation.
I went through the timeline of the 4 day ULP strike, the illegal 3 week lockout, the return to work and the continued work for a contract.
I told them how the other unions, the political community, the AFT Locals, and the southeastern Connecticut community, all came together.
I told them how AFT Connecticut and AFT national sent staff to New London, and how Randi Weingartin came in support.
I told them how touching it was to the L+M workers to have this support, especially, the financial  support from around the country.
Rod shared his thoughts of how "this" is what this task force is all about, finding ways to help small locals.

We are a diverse union, spread far and wide, and we face many challenges. But we have the ability to come together in solidarity and when we do, nothing can stop us.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Small Union Task Force

So, I'm off today for San Diego.
It's the third and probably last gathering of the AFT Small Unions Task Force.
It's the sixth trip in the past 12 months for union business.
Maybe I should get paid by the mile?

In a way, that's what this task force is about.

AFT is set up so that each individual Local is an independent federation or union. In the case of my Local, it allows the Backus nurses the greatest say over their own destiny.
We control our own budget (thanks to the incredible work of our treasurer, Donna Callicutt). We control what issues are important to us when it comes to negotiating. We decide who, if anyone, we endorse in political campaigns. Etc.
All our officers, executive board members, delegates, and members, work in the hospital, not in some far off office where we never see or hear from them.

You get the picture.  It's a grass roots organization.

That's good in so many ways.  It's also a challenge due to the limited resources available to a small Local.
This task force is charged to study, and offer recommendations, on this challenge.
How can AFT best help Locals that are small enough to have leaders that work full time in the workplace, a small business in their spare time.

These trips are a good example.
Yes, our expenses will be covered, but, unlike hospital or school management, who might go to conventions and meetings as part of their work week, our time is on our own.
That's why it's on a weekend, because many of the 18 Local presidents who make up the task force are teachers. Others, like me, will use vacation time.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm complaining.
I have never been involved in anything so fulfilling in my life.  I am grateful for the opportunity to be appointed to assignments like this and for the opportunity to serve my fellow members.
It's a great opportunity to meet members and leaders from all over the country, to share ideas, and to make friends and connections.

This task force is but one example of many.  Workers helping workers, people helping people, all working in solidarity with limited resources for the greater good.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

This Pope gives me hope

There's something refreshing coming out of Vatican City these days, and his name is Francis.
Since his election last year, Pope Francis shaken up the establishment.
A simple man from Argentina, who ministered in the slums as a priest, bishop, and cardinal. A man who lives in a simple apartment and does not need lavish material things.

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, Francis says,

52. In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences........
53. Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded......
54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own....
55. One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies.....
We have created new idols....
man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.
56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few........To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.
57. Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God......With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.[55]
58. ...... Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

(edits and highlights are mine, please read the entire exhortation)
Francis reminds us what the Dalai Lama and other religious teachers have been telling us.
We have a responsibility to live an ethical life, treating all as our brothers and sisters, sharing our good fortune.  
It is a theme that runs though all major religious and philosophical teachings.
And we have lost it.
But Francis.....

This Pope gives me hope.