Sunday, August 31, 2014

Labor Day Message

All work has dignity and meaning.
All workers deserve respect.

Labor Day is set aside to honor these two beliefs.

I salute all workers,  and in particular, I salute organized Labor.
The workplace protections we now enjoy are the result of many men and women standing together in unity and standing up for themselves.

Labor Day is also a time to look at were we have come from and where we hope to go.

This past year we won a major victory at L+M Hospital.  Locals 5049, 5051, and 5123 showed us what solidarity means. They also showed us how to work with other locals, other unions, and the community to build on that solidarity.
In the end, "right" won, "justice" won, and "greed" lost.
I am particularly proud that young Local 5149, the nurses of Backus Hospital, still in our first contract, played a supporting role.  Through it, we matured as unionists.

I see great hope for the Labor movement.  I see my members finding and using their voice in growing numbers. I see non union workers standing up for their rights in Walmarts and fast food.  I see Healthcare unions willing to do what ever it takes to put patients first. I see workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere, mobilizing to fight back against the Scott Walkers of the world who wish to strip them of a voice. I see unions in Florida, and other right to work for less states enrolling members because workers see the benefit of standing together. I see Locals such as the teachers in New Haven and Meriden and the public employees of Connecticut, with the self confidence to work with employers when possible for the common good.

I see these things and I am excited about the future, anxious to be a part of it, ready to redouble our efforts.

This is why I said yes to that first phone call four years ago when a fellow nurse asked would I be willing to talk to a guy from a union.
I was tired and I felt hopeless.

I may be tired now, but it is a good tired.
I have a voice and I use it.
I can advocate for my patients and increasingly, for students and the public my union serves.
I have friends who feel the same way.

My sisters and brothers, enjoy your holiday if you are off.
If, like me, you are working, know that the work you do has meaning and makes a difference.
Rest if you can.
Tuesday begins a new year in the workers calender and we have much to do.
We will do it, we will be successful, because we will do it in solidarity.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Round one to Malloy

It's on!
The first of the gubernatorial debates for the Connecticut governor race was held last night in Norwich. 
It might be impossiblele for me to give an accurate assessment of who was the winner and who was the loser because I clearly favor the Governor in this race, but I think the "experts" will agree, Malloy won by a mile.

Dan Malloy knows his facts and figures and can recall them in a moment's notice.  Tom Foley is reduced to speaking in generalities, and offers no definitive plan for the future.
The Governor can speak to specific investments in infrastructure or education and all Foley can say is we need reform, we need to invest more and cut taxes and balance the budget, but offers no specifics on how he would do so.
I could go on, but I'll let you read it all in the papers and on social media.
Bottom line, Dan Malloy is not perfect, he has made mistakes, but his heart is with the working class and disadvantaged of this state and he works hard for us each and every day.
Last night he clearly apologized to teachers for remarks he had made in the past about tenure. He said "I was wrong" and he praised teachers.
Somewhere, Dan Malloy's teachers, must have smiled.

Tom Foley has no specifics, even though he ran for governor 4 years ago.
He comes to small town Eastern Connecticut and tells the select woman/senator, whom he doesn't recognize, and the mill workers, that THEY FAILED and that is why their mill closed.

One final note.
You can tell a lot about a leader by who they chose as a running mate.
Is that running mate a strong person in their own right?
Are they a partner, or window dressing?
Are they capable of taking over in a moment's notice if needed?
Are they as hard a worker, as dedicated to the cause, as passionate about what they do, as the candidate?
Lt Governor Nancy Wyman is all this and more.
That says a lot about the governor.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


The estimate of how much my hospital spent fighting it's own employees when we organized runs as high as $11million. The hospital admitted to almost $1million.
I know, crazy, right?

Contrast that to what Meriden Federation of Teachers president Erin Benham has been able to accomplish with a cooperative relationship with her superintendent, Mark Benigni .

I got to know Erin and hear of the cooperative program last year when we served together on the AFT Small Union Task Force, along with AFT leaders from across the country.
She told me how she and Mark speak on the phone every morning as they head off to school, of how signage of the Meriden Federation of Teachers hangs in the entrance of the school, and how teachers and administration work as a partnership to the benefit of students.
She told me that it was not always this way, in fact, some previous administrations were quite hostile towards teachers.  Erin stood up to them, meeting force with force, but always offering an olive branch if they were interested in a better way.  Eventually, by a combination of standing her ground and offering cooperation, the relationship started to change and when Mark became superintendant, the cooperation bloomed.

Erin demonstrated what AFT President Randi Weingarten calls "a little bit bad ass, and solution driven unionism," and serves as an example of what is possible.
And the real winners?
The students.

I try to imitate Erin's approach and haven't given up hope that it is possible.  We recently reached a tentative agreement to have joint Labor/Management training on working together with the Federal Mediation services.

So, when Governor Malloy was looking for a new member of the Connecticut State Board of Ed, Erin was a natural choice. She was appointed this week.
The students and in fact, all the people of Connecticut, are lucky to have Erin in this new role.

I am lucky to have her as a friend and mentor.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gotta do much more than believe

In his song "Waiting on the world to change", John Mayer sings,
It's hard to beat the system 
When we're standing at a distance 
So we keep waiting 
Waiting on the world to change 

I love this song. It has a melody that just begs you to sing along.
I understand the frustration that leads to the lyrics and do not dispute them.
But they also make me sad.
They speak of a feeling of hopelessness to change things.
However, later in the same song he sings, 

Now if we had the power 
To bring our neighbors home from war 
They would have never missed a Christmas 
No more ribbons on their door

 One day our generation 
Is gonna rule the population
So we keep on waiting 
Waiting on the world to change 

Thus he offers hope and a belief that change will come.

Is that enough?

Another favorite singer/songwriter, Dave Matthews sings in "Gaucho",
We gotta do much more than believe
if we really wanna change things
We gotta do much more than believe
if we wanna see the world change

Please wake up
Please wake up
Please wake up

Together, these lyrics speak of the frustrations with the way things are, a doubt that we can effect change, the pain of waiting for change to occur, the belief that change can happen, and a call to wake up and effect that change.

We have all been frustrated with situations we felt we could not change.
We have all felt the feeling of waiting for the world to change.

It's hard. We want to get on with it. We want to sing the next line of the song. We want to believe, to wake up, to change the world.

Again, is that enough?

We have to believe, we have to dream big, but we also have to take care of the little details day in and day out that can lead to the change.  To take care of those details requires us to make a plan, and work that plan.
That takes careful thought, and time.

It's not sexy, it's not the fun part, but without it, we don't effect change, we don't change the world.
They say patience is a virtue.
It's one I'm trying to work on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thank you teachers, have a good year

One of the classes I was required to take in nursing school was sociology.  I knew I would hate it, but it was a requirement.  The time could have been better spent in science or nursing practice, of this I was sure.
The professor was great.  He explained how we view the world though glasses that are influenced by our upbringing, our culture, our economic class.  I had never thought about this.
We had to write a short paper.  Mine was an introspective look titled "Why I believe what I do."
Looking back, I realize it was my first blog and the beginning or an introspective journey to better understand myself and by that, understand others.
A class I was sure I should hate was a life changer because of this teacher.

As we prepare to begin another school year, I wanted to take a moment and thank teachers for the amazing service that give us.
They change our lives.
They make us better.

Our teachers are often criticized and it is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Like nurses and other health care workers; teachers, paraprofessionals and school support staff dedicate their lives to a greater good. For that, they have to deal with school shootings and other violence, abuse and criticism.
Educators should be held to high standards, moral and professional.
On this, there is no debate.
On this, they agree completely.

However, this crusade to strip them of due process is wrong and dangerous, and this pressure to teach to the test is harmful to our children.
If teachers are not up to standards they should be given the chance to improve and if they cannot, they should move on.
If they have done wrong, they should be disciplined, but they should have a fair chance to defend themselves.
Students should have the opportunity to advance academically to the highest level each and every individual is capable, but we should not produce a generation of test takers who cannot critically think.

Teachers agree with all this.

I am a Registered Nurse leader in a union that represents, teachers, professors, paras, and school support staff, along with healthcare and public service.
I am no expert in all their issues. I see the world though my glasses.  But I know how my life has been changed by my teachers, I know how important my bedside teaching is to my patients, and I know how standardized testing and evaluations sometimes seem good at first, but not so good in practice.

In an amazing speech at our National convention this year, Reverend William Barber said that if we do not invest at the beginning of life, we will have to invest later in life.
So true.

Lately I have been investing more time in learning about issues that effect the rest of my union, teachers paras, school support, and public servants.
It has only increased my admiration of them.

I wish you all a great school year, thank you for all you do.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Being a Unionist

Been having a lot of talks with different people lately on what the Labor movement is and can be, and what it mean to be a unionist.
Word of warning......don't get me started on this unless you have an evening to devote to it.

I suppose, like most things, it means different things to different people.
But, what does it mean to me?

Four years ago, I had no involvement in the movement.  I was doing the best I could to help people as a Registered Nurse, to put up with the abuse we were receiving from the boss, and to go home and try to find enjoyment in outside activities.

Then someone offered me a chance to have a voice.
A hint of a promise that I could be treated with respect at work and that I could advocate for my patients without fear.
It was an easy call.

Once in, I was all in.

I have faced opposition to using my new found voice, I have been afraid at times, but I am also determined that I will never go back to those voiceless days.
What we have accomplished against all odds at Backus is remarkable.
But it is only the beginning.
There are so many other people looking for a voice.  Those of us who have found our voice have a responsibility to help them find theirs.

To me, that is the basis of the movement, and to be a unionist is to put the movement above myself, to put other people before myself, to put the common good ahead of myself.
It means setting aside thoughts of personal gain and standing with my brother and sister in solidarity.

From my recent conversations, I believe you can see a unionist in their eyes and hear them in their voice.
It's a beautiful thing, a beautiful gift, a beautiful life.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Why Betsy Ritter

Wednesday night, my union members hit the phones to remind others that there is a primary next Tuesday and that we have endorsed Betsy Ritter for state senate.

Tomorrow and Sunday, members of the 3 L+M locals will hit the streets to visit union households for the same reason. Backus Nurses will join them, as well as union members from other locals and unions.

Why spend our free time doing this?

I'm sure there are as many reasons as there are people.  But at the base of all those reasons is this.
We believe in a society where the common man and woman should be equal with the privileged.
We believe society is better if all have a voice at the table.
We believe that to achieve this, we must have the right to organize and collectively bargain.

Not everyone agrees with us.

When Scott Walker became governor of Wisconsin, he stripped workers of this right.  Now teachers cannot advocate for their students without fear of retribution.
That's just not right.
Before we organized I was afraid to advocate for my patients, if it went against a doctor or management.
That's just not right.

So, when someone in the legislature or the executive branch stands in solidarity with us and these rights, we must stand with them.
It's only right.

Betsy Ritter has consistently done this. Standing with us on vote after vote, advocating for patients, for students, and the workers of Connecticut.
She has stood with us on the streets of Norwich, on the streets of New London, and in the chambers in Hartford.
She has done so not out of any sense of obligation for our support.
Rather, our support is out of appreciation of her core beliefs and her ability to effectively lead on those beliefs.

I have nothing against her opponent, I believe him to be honorable and sincere. I wish him well.
However, there are few like Betsy Ritter.
That's why we call, that's why we walk, that's why we stand with her.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

39 and counting

August 2, 1975 was a scorcher.
It wasn't just because I was dressed in a tux and had a full crop of hair still insulated my head, it was HOT!
The debate continues about whether the air conditioner at the reception was broken or just couldn't handle the workload, but there is agreement that the room was far from comfortable.
That day, Michelle Renee Bessenaire and I were wed.
14,245 days ago.
Figuring for leap years.
Not that we're counting.

It's hard to imagine how so many years could have passed, and how they could exactly match our ages, but so it is.

As you can imagine, there have been good days and bad, celebrations and defeats, wins and losses.
We have raised two loving sons and we have three wonderful, active grandchildren.
We have cried at births and cried at deaths.  We have held each other close as we have said goodbye to our parents, our brother in laws and many others.
We have supported each other as we each returned to school as adults.
We have suffered through layoffs and celebrated new jobs and a union organizing drive.
We have traveled and vacationed in exotic places and we have traveled together to the mall and grocery store.
We have balanced a budget and checkbook with varying success.
We have sung at birthdays and wrapped and opened so many Christmas presents.

And then one day....
39 years.

How does a couple celebrate such a momentous occasion?
Well, I worked today and Michelle did the grocery shopping.
We met at church, then came home to eat left overs.
Our big treat was to catch a movie and then stop for one glass of wine.
I know, party animals, but the morning and work will come soon enough.

That, my friends is the way of real marriage, and of real life.  It's not always fireworks, not always happily ever after.  It's work, and groceries, and chores, and an occasional night out.
And I'll take it.
Because for all these years, and I hope, a good deal more, I have been privileged to share lives with an amazing person.
And that is what it's all about.