Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Dilemma of the Healthcare worker

The commercialization of Healthcare is a fact, it is happening.  It is happening because there is money to be made.  If there were not, there would not be any hospitals converting from not for profit to for profit.  For profit companies do not buy hospitals to lose money.
There are many problems with healthcare being run as a business first, and a deliverer of health care second.
I would like to focus on just one aspect of that problem, the effects it has on Healthcare workers.
Working in Heath Care is a calling. People devote themselves to the educational requirements needed, putting their lives on hold for several years, to be able to devote themselves to their vocation.  Then they devote their lives, both in time and in emotional investment to the care of those who need them.
It can be extremely rewarding, if not financially, then at least emotionally.
When such a worker finds themselves thrust into a world where they are not given enough time to properly carry out their mission, the conflict between doing the right thing and doing what little they are able to do, can tear their soul apart.
And yet, they cannot walk away, it is after all, their calling.
So they remain, day after day, year after year, in a situation that is impossible to live with and impossible to walk away from.
What is the solution?
I do not know.
But I think it has to start with a realization of the situation, both so that the healthcare worker can deal with the internal conflict and so that the public can be aware, and maybe effect change in the system.
I also know this, since we formed a union at Backus, we now have a voice, we now have hope. 
There is much to do, and working together and supporting each other will keep us strong. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Local 5149 update 5/25/14

I try to send out regular updates to my members via email, and I started to think maybe some non-members would like to hear what's going on.

Fellow nurses,
Interesting conference call this week with Fran Lawrence, AFT Executive VP, members of the small union task force and members of the Defense Fund Committee on how to implement suggested changes to the Defense Fund that the task force has recommended. 
The Defense Fund helps pay for costs associated with large legal issues, strikes, lockouts, etc.  The L+M situation is a good case in point.  The 3 L+M Locals split 1/3 of the costs, the state Federation 1/3, and the National 1/3.  As you can imagine, this puts a tremendous financial strain on a Local, especially a small one.  At  L+M the smallest Local is the LPN/Tech Local 5051, with about 250 members.  We have some Locals in AFT with as few as 10 members, and that is the concern of the task force.  I don't know what the outcome will be, but we have a voice in the process.
This week, Melissa has two important meetings, one dealing with staffing issues on one unit and the other dealing with the return to work of a nurse who has been out for a while.  Thank you Melissa for coming in on her own time to take these meetings.
On contract is online on our website.
Issues come up between contracts that need to be dealt with and agreements need to be made until the next contract negotiations.  (Vacations, on Call, etc.) These agreements are worked out by the Labor/Management Committee (currently the 4 union officers and a management team)
I was asked if we could post these agreements with the contract and I will work on getting that done. If you have any questions please contact me or another delegate.
Speaking of websites, did you know we have an app?
If you go onto the Apple App store or the android Play store, and search "AFT" you can find it.  Once downloaded, click "Local" and you can set your favorite to 5149, that way, the contract and other info is never far away.

In service,

June 16 + 17 is the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention
July 11-14 is the AFT national convention
Sept 20 is the AFT Connecticut healthcare professional issues conference, more info to come.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Reclaim the Spirit" of a caring community

The last time I walked from a union office with a group of people I was in New London, carrying a picket sign to demonstrate against a hospital that had forgotten it was supposed to be a part of the community.  It was cold!
Sunday morning I walked from our union office with a group of volunteers from the Backus Federation of Nurses and the Security and support staff unions (AFT and SPFPA) to the Chelsea Parade green in Norwich to help set up for the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut's Walk Against Hunger. It was warm and beautiful!

Close to 400 people walked the 2.5 mile route to raise money and awareness of those who are "food insecure", meaning they do not know where their next meal comes from.
The Gemma E Moran United Way/Labor Food Center was the recipient of the donations. They service 20,000 people in the reagion through their support of 96 permanent soup kitchens, food pantries, mobile food vans, and other services.

Our participation in the walk was consistent with the AFT "Reclaim the Spirit" movement, in this case the spirit of a caring community.
It is our belief that the care we provide does not end at the walls of the hospital.  We are a part of the community and it is a part of us.  If one brother or sister in the community is hungry, or otherwise in need, it is our obligation to act.
That is why we have partnered with the United Way to help at events like this and the food drives we have done.
That is why we continue to look for ways to connect with our community neighbors.

Monday, May 19, 2014

No one stands alone

There she was, up on the big screen, seconding the Governor of Connecticut for re-election.

The room was filled with a who's who of labor leaders, with drop in visits from the Governor, Lt Governor, and everybody else in the administration. It was the Labor Reception room at the state Democratic convention.
And there was Stephanie Johnson, president of Local 5051 at L+M hospital, my friend, on the over sized TV screen, playing  major role.
It's no surprise. She led her members through a tough Lockout and proved she is a leader in the labor movement. 
She is also the commissioner of the Commission on African-American Affairs.
When she spoke, the room stopped, listened, and then applauded.
What a moment!

You see, it wasn't just MY Stephanie, it was EVERYONE'S Stephanie.

The victory at L+M has energized the Connecticut Labor Movement.  So many, many people people, from across the state and nation, played a role.  They walked the line, they wrote letters and sent emails and made phone calls, they sent donations of food, money and toys, in some cases they cooked the food right there on the picket line.
It was L+M's victory yes, but it was Labor's victory as well.

Stephanie, Lisa, and Harry received the President's Award at the AFT Connecticut convention and each of them in their own way said that it was their executive boards, it was their members, it was the Labor Movement, who made it all possible.

If Stephanie was nervous on that stage in front of all those people, she didn't show it, but then again, Stephanie, Harry and Lisa understand a very important fact about the Labor Movement......
No one ever stands alone.

When great leaders stand up, we stand with them in solidarity.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My story, my dream

Candice Owley, an AFT VP,  stopped me in the hall in Baltimore the other day. She wanted to introduce me to the lunchtime speaker. She said the speaker and I were both story tellers and then said some nice things about my blog. When Candice introduced the speaker to the gathering, she dropped my name into the intro, retelling our conversation in the hall.  She didn't have to do that, but she did, and it was a great sign of respect.
If anything sums up the last week in Baltimore for me, that is it.

Respect is the one universal we all want and we all deserve.  We don't always get it at work, at home, or in the community, but at a conference like last week, we certainly do.

I returned Saturday night from 5 exhausting but wonderful days in Baltimore representing my members.

What were the highlights?

I should tell you about the educational opportunities and the chances to make and renew contacts which will both enhance my practice and my ability to lead the Backus nurses.
I should, and all that is true, but those are not the highlights.

The highlights are seeing my nurses grow and accept a leadership role, not just on the Local level, not just on the state level, but on the national level.
Being able to introduce Dave, one of our newer delegates, who just took over as newsletter editor, to Adrien Coles, editor of our national magazine, and then to have her ask if she could interview him for an article.
To have President Randi Weingarten take the time to have a conversation with Melissa, our VP.
To have Francine Lawrence, AFT Executive VP, spot me at the president's reception, and cross the room to discuss a conference call next week that is a followup for the small union task force.
The late night "team building", that at one point had me laughing so hard I had low back spasms.
The baseball game with Harry, Steve and Dave.
The hour long conversation with Harry Rodriguez on the plane trip down and Melissa Hunter on the trip home, both similar in their theme of our hopes and plans for the future of our union.
The late night heart to heart with Ole about life, family, and the labor movement.

It was a week of respect, and that is what drives our movement, the belief that we should live in a world where all workers are respected, where they receive a living wage, not dependent on their gender, free of discrimination, in a safe work environment, without child labor, with quality public education, and with the ability to retire in dignity.

If I am a dreamer, if I am a story teller, then let that be my dream, let that be my story.

Friday, May 9, 2014

From Baltimore

I am in Baltimore at the AFT Healthcare Professional Issues Conference with 5 other Backus Federation of Nurses.  
My VP, Melissa Hunter posted on FB:

"In Baltimore, just listened to Randi Weingarten give an amazing speech. I am so proud to be a leader in my Union and feeling incredibly empowered surrounded by such amazing individuals. To our members: we are a part of such an amazing group of people who also care about our patients. They recognize what we need "STAFFING" to care for our patients and community safely and appropriately. Wish you were all here to see what we are a part of. Proud to be your VP."

It's hard to express the level of pride I feel when I watch our VP interacting with the likes of Randi, AFT Healthcare Director Mary MacDonald, and all the other leaders of AFT.  
When I see our political liaison, Carol, with the governor. When I see our new newsletter editor, Dave, publish his first edition. When I am reminded of the incredible job our treasurer Donna and secretary Marji do in keeping the books and finances in order. When I see how our delegates stand up for our members and how our members are learning to stand up for themselves.

What we have done in a few short years is incredible.
It may have taken the Backus Nurses a long time to find our voices, but now that we have found them we are using them.

Melissa is right, we are part of an amazing group of people who also care about our patients.
AFT is more than a "union of professionals", we are a major player in a movement dedicated to the principal that all people should be treated equally, with respect and dignity. 
A movement made up of AFT, other unions, community groups, faith groups and more.
A union with incredible leadership and staff, as dedicated as we are.

Melissa is proud to be a leader in this movement.
This movement is proud of her.

I cannot close with a thank you to another wonderful leader, Mary MacDonald.
She is and always will be a big part of the Backus story.
We will miss her.
 I will miss her.
But she leaves knowing that leaders like her replacement, Kelly Trautner, and Melissa Hunter will carry on her work.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A target on our back.

Sometimes in life, we are wronged.
Sometimes it is accidental, sometimes deliberate but not premeditated, and sometimes we are the target of a premeditated plan to harms us.
Maybe we have done something to upset another, or hurt their feelings, or maybe they just perceive this to be so. Maybe they are jealous over something.
Maybe we just remind them of their evil uncle.
Whatever the reason, we have all found ourselves at times feeling like we had a target on our back.

What do we do?

Certainly we have a right to defend ourselves, and a right for it to end.
I have even heard some say we have a duty to do so.  They say that if it is happening to us, it is probably happening to others.
I think we also have a duty to examine our own actions and see if they might have led to this targeting towards us.

Not withstanding our rights, and even if our actions have not contributed, we have another obligation.
I have another obligation.

As he was being stoned to death, St Stephen asked forgiveness for his murderers.
In doing so, he was following his faith, guided in this case by the sermon on the mount,

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

I am no Stephen, nor will I ever be, but I am called to follow the same faith and teachings that he was, as best I can.

I believe my duty lies in defending myself and others, while forgiving my attackers.
No one said it was going to be easy.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Carol Adams, our Obi-Wan

In one of the Star War Movies, Obi-Wan faces Vader, and he tells Vader that if struck down, he will become more powerful than before.  Of course, that's exactly what happens.
Let's watch.

We have our own Obi-Wan.
When we organized, we had one nurse, Carol Adams, who has a talent for socializing and connecting with people.
She can "work a room."
I asked her to be our Political Liaison.
Carol had wanted to work for several more years.  She has nursed her entire life, enjoys it, and in particular, enjoys mentoring new nurses.
But, things have changed at the hospital, it's "not the same". and Carol was, shall we say, "encouraged" to retire.
Like Obi-Wan, she felt struck down.
Now,Carol attends more political and social events, and meetings with union brothers an sisters, than ever.
Like Obi-Wan, she has become stronger.
We attended an event for the Governor on Thursday and there was another one yesterday.  Family obligations kept me from attending, but no worries, Carol was there.
Her email report:

Hi John, had a nice afternoon at the Goldman's. Made a new contact, Susan Bysiewicz. I also had a nice chat with the Gov. He thanked me for coming out for him again. I reminded him that after a difficult day he came to a small union hall in downtown Norwich when we were organizing, and that it meant a lot to us. I told him we'd like to return the favor. He seemed touched. 

We are extremely lucky to have Carol in this role, and as my a good friend and adviser.
Like Obi-Wan, always there for me.