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.

No comments: