Sunday, September 28, 2014

The work we do matters

I received a very nice thank you card yesterday from one of my members.
She is a nurse with 36 years experience, most of that at our hospital, who was injured lifting a patient.  She went out on worker's comp and an FMLA.
When her FMLA ran out, she was place in indefinite leave but when she was cleared by the doctors to return to work there were no positions on her med-surg floor. 
We had to fight to get her back in the hospital. 
The hospital offered a position in the recovery room, a specialty area where she had never worked. 
It was a set up to fail. 
She tried extremely hard to learn this new position but the hospital was not satisfied with her progress and they let her go and the battle resumed. 
About the same time a position opened on her old floor we fought and were successful in getting her back, where she is doing extremely well. 
It was a long battle.
We fought not once, but twice, to return her to her lifelong vocation.
My executive board and field rep would not give up on her and she would not give up on us.

Her card had a beautiful poem that she had hand written:

Your greatness is measured by your kindness,
Your education and intellect by your modesty,
Your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices,
And your real caliber is measured by your consideration and tolerance you have for others!

Thanks a bunch-you are great at what you do-glad to be an AFT member!

If you are a president, officer or leader of your union, 
if you are a field rep, organizer, lobbyist, or other field staff, 
if you are a support staff member in the office, 
if you work for AFT Connecticut, AFT national, or work for or are a leader of any other union.......
This message goes out to you.

You may not hear the thanks often enough.
You may not feel appreciated.
But my sisters and brothers,

The work we do matters. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Honest conversations are easy

I've been having a lot of conversations recently, what with the close gubernatorial election race in Connecticut. 
Lots of phone calls and house visits.
At the same time I've had lots of recent conversations about the future of the union movement.
These discussions start around trying to gain support and usually end with a frank discussion about our mutual hopes for the future.
I was commenting on all these conversations to a good friend and saying how enjoyable and easy it is to have them and she said to me, 

"Having honest conversations isn't hard."

So simple, yet so profound.
It all comes down to this.
Do you place the good of the many above the good of the self?
Do you believe that all work has dignity and all people deserve to be treated with respect, free of discrimination and bullying in all it's forms?
Do you believe what we are our brother's keeper?

We may disagree on the right path to these goals, we may disagree with the right leadership to elect to get us there, but if we do not first agree to these principles, then we are oceans apart in our thinking.
Unions, civil rights groups, faith based groups and others should share these goals.
Honest conversations can lead to an achievement of these goals.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Recognizing and Respecting

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader!" John Quincy Adams, 6th U. S. President

I picked up that quote at a hospital workshop this week.  Much of the workshop dealt with communication and leadership skills, like being in the moment and spending half your time developing others
Good stuff for my personal life and my union work.  As for hospital work, well, I can only change myself, which of course, is the point.
So now, after going though many such workshops over the years, under many re-manufactured titles, and seeing no major improvement at work, I keep my hopes low as a self defense mechanism.

Know what I mean?

But more important, how can I use these principles in my own life?

My union, AFT Connecticut has some of the finest presidents, executive boards, members and staff as you will find in any organization.
That was on display this Saturday at the State Healthcare Conference, a one day workshop on subjects such as testifying at the statehouse, HIPPA and social media, bullying in the workplace. legal rights, and more.
The presenters were great and the questions, comments, and discussion from the audience just as great.

It's good to step back, "be in the moment," and realize the talent that I am surrounded by.
I don't have to be an expert on everything, nor to I, or can I, be the one who does everything.
I do have to realize the talented people around me, show them the respect they deserve, and listen.
I also have to involve these talented people in the formulation, administrating, and monitoring of our plans.

I find that when I so this, people respond by dreaming more, learning more, and doing more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Say no to a "Wisconsin Moment"

Last July, Tom Foley stated he wanted Connecticut to have a "Wisconsin Moment."

What does that mean?

Since that time, Foley has tried to explain that he meant Connecticut should have an end to one party rule.
Maybe Foley doesn't keep up with the news, that would certainly explain how he was unaware of who State Senator Cathy Osten was, when he visited Sprague to tell Fusion Paperboard workers they had failed, and that is why their jobs were gone.  It would also explain why he didn't realize that Wisconsin doesn't have two party rule, Republicans hold the governorship and the legislature.

In fact, Republicans have controlled Wisconsin since 2010, and in 2011, under Scott Walker, they changed state law, enacting Act 10,  and made public employee unions illegal.
Public Employee unions in Wisconsin cannot collectively bargain for pensions, health insurance, safety, vacation, sick leave, or hours of work.

Americans have the right to join together, to go to their employer, and to bargain collectively as a group.
Apparently, public sector workers in Wisconsin are not Americans, because as a result of the "Wisconsin Moment" these rights have been taken away.

When current contracts run out, Wisconsin public employees are prohibited from bargaining on a new contract.
At the same time, Walker's "Wisconsin Moment" cut funding to towns.
Faced with a decrease in funding, local school boards were forced to cut public employee pay and benefits, including teacher's, and they were allowed to do so under Act 10 without negotiations.
Now teachers, faced with mortgages and school loans themselves, have been forced to sell houses and move to other states for work.

The result has been a loss of 15,00 jobs,and over $1 million in additional pay cuts to workers who kept their jobs.  These are not people who were investing in Wall Street, they were people who were investing in Main St.
The effect on Wisconsin's economy has been devastating.  When a public sector employee loses their job or faces a significant pay cut, they lack the money to spend that boosts the local economy.  Services to the public drop as less workers are left to handle the work, unemployment increases, teachers leave for other states, small businesses are adversely effected by the decrease in spending, and on and on.
It is the death spiral.

Contrast that to what has happened in Connecticut.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would state that Dan Malloy has rolled over and given teachers and public employees everything they wanted.  In fact, he is in danger of losing their support because he did just the opposite.
He has been a tough negotiator with public employees, gaining concessions from them.
He has pushed for teacher evaluation reform, inciting teachers with some of his remarks.

I see their frustration, I understand their anger.

He negotiated with public sector workers, he did not push for a "Wisconsin Moment" and has publicly affirmed the rights of both private and public sector workers to collectively bargain.
After a rocky start on teacher evaluation reforms, he has stepped back, taken another look, publicly apologized for his comments, sat to work with teachers for a more common sense approach, and even appointed a teacher to the State Board of Ed.

Connecticut's economy is rebounding, because Molley rejects a "Wisconsin Moment."
Our teachers are working, our public sector employees are working, our trade workers are rebuilding bridges, repaving roads, erecting new buildings, our hospitals and doctor's offices are busy with patients who did not have insurance in the past.

The chose is clear, we can go with Tom Foley and Scott Walker, we can have a "Wisconsin Moment", or we can move forward with Governor Dan Malloy, who rejects a "Wisconsin Moment" and who affirms the right to collective bargaining and all the benefits to society that come with it.

The choice is ours.

Monday, September 15, 2014


"As a leader, You are powerful!'

This is the first line of a reading I am doing in preparation for H3W, which as far as I can tell, is a Hartford Hospital version of HRO or high reliability organizations. Let me say from the start that I agree with the principle so HRO, it is in the implementation that I think it often fails.  We went through HRO at Backus but it is applied in piecemeal, applied where it is convenient for management and ignored where it is not.

I also believe that leaders can be powerful.

It is in the message of the first statement that I have an issue. To me it implies a sense of being in control, of being superior, of being the "boss".  In fact, "the boss" is powerful. The boss hold your economic security in his hands. But the boss is often not a leader.

Jesus, Gandhi, Chavez: they were leaders.
Hitler was powerful, but not a leader.

A leader's strength comes from the collective strength of those who willingly follow him/her.
A leaders strength comes from their willingness to lead by example, to serve rather than be served, to listen, to show respect.

Jesus, Gandhi, Chavez; did this.  They lived with those they led, they walked the walk.

I have heard this referred to as "the upside down pyramid".
In most organizations, the president or CEO is at the top, with vice presidents below them, and so on and so on.
In an organization with leader instead of a boss, the people are at the top, with vice presidents below them, and the leader at the bottom.
A part of that implies that the leader serves the masses, and that is true, but it is more than that.
In a traditional hierarchy, the power is held at the top.
In an upside down hierarchy, the power still resides at the top, it's just that the people are now at the top.
The leader's strength comes from the collective strength of those who willingly follow him/her.
Not from fear, or bullying, or power.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Let us never forget

I was at home when the first plan hit.
I watched in horror as the second plan hit.
Nearly 3000 people died that day, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles.
Most of them were at work at the time.
415 firefighters, ems, and police died that day in service to others.
When they left for work, their families had every reason to believe all these people would return home.
Except, they didn't.

The protocol in our Trauma 2 level ER had recently changed.
No longer in a mass casualty were we to rush to the hospital.
Studies had shown that when that was done, all the staff was exhausted in less than a day.
Our new instructions were to stay home, stay by the phone, and try to rest.
Rest would not come easy.
Through TV, we were experiencing something most of us had never lived through.
Not since Pearl Harbor, had our country come under attack.

Our hospital is 115 miles from New York City.
I was sure we would get some of the casualties, or at least some of the diversions that would be needed as the big hospitals in southwest and central Connecticut became overwhelmed.
But the call never came.
The casualties never came.

Because very few survived.

Please don't ever complain to me about the state of your workplace, your community, your state or your nation, without also being willing to work to improve things.
People have given their lives, sometimes unexpected as on 9/11, sometimes knowing they were facing danger as in all our wars.  They gave their lives so that we could have the right to improve our work sites, our communities, our states, our nations, and our world.
I know it can seem overwhelming, I know it can be frustratingly slow, I know it can seem hopeless.
I also know that I must try.
I implore you to do the same, if not for yourself, then for those who have given their lives.

Let us never forget.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Door Knocking with Jamie

It was hot and humid this morning as we walked around that Norwich neighborhood, but it didn't bother me. You see, I had met a new union brother.
It was a Labor to Labor walk, visiting union households to get out the vote in November.
I was teamed up with Jamie Lamitie, a fellow AFT member.  He's an electrical teacher from Norwich Tech, and a member of SVFT.
Between houses, we shared stories about teaching and nursing, about kids and life.  I told him how we organized Backus and how I have been lucky enough to travel the country on union committees and conventions and such.  He's a building rep at Norwich Tech and I said I had recently become friends with his president and she offered to take me on tours of the schools some day.  He said I must come to Norwich Tech, to see "his" school and because they serve the best lunch, courtesy of the culinary class.

AFT represents Healthcare, Education, and public employees, a fact that Internet radio talk host Niicole Sandler found fascinating when she interviewed me this summer in Los Angeles.

I told her that AFT is healthcare, it's education, it's public service.
But it's all the same, we're all taking care of people in one way or the other. and for all of us, it's not so much a job, me taking care of a patient, or a teacher taking care of a student, it's a vocation.
And our issues, though different, are at the same time, similar.
Staffing levels and HCAHPS scores, class size and common core.

Jamie and I must have knocked on 50 doors.  Some were not home, some didn't want to talk, two took voter registration cards, and a couple wanted to make us coffee, Did we influence any votes?  Maybe a couple.  Were people appreciative that we took the time to visit?  I think so.  Did I get to meet and know another union brother? Definitely!
And when that happens, it's a good day.