Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living

Several hundred people gathered in the coolness of the morning. It was 6;00 and we were at Washington Park in Groton, CT.
Speeches were made, taps was played, the National Anthem and Amazing Grace were sung.
But we weren't gathered to hear speeches or listen to music. we were gathered to honor the dead.
April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor those killed , injured or made ill as a result of the workplace.
It is also a day we rededicate ourselves to fighting for safety on the job.
That is why we have partnered with our entire Connecticut congressional delegation to push for tougher OSHA standards on the safety of healthcare workers. We are also advocating in Hartford for safe staffing legislation because adequate staffing has been proven to both improve patient outcomes and increase worker safety.
Labor advocate Mother Jones said it best, "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Our Vision for Change 3

The third of four principles and goals of our team is Transparency.
The words in italics are from AFT- CT: Our Vision for Change

Our members work hard. They have a right to expect that the money (dues) be spent prudently.
Our union does a lot of great work, and that work takes people and resources. It's not cheap.  I think we all understand this.
But our members have a right to know that their dues are spent wisely.  Our leadership has a duty to make sure members not only trust dues are being spent well but also can see, through tangible examples, where we spend our dues. 
AFT-CT's leadership must be beholden to the Executive Committee, the membership, and the truth. That only happens when there is transparency in policies and practices. 
The officers have a responsibility to inform, discuss and seek the guidance and input of the Executive Committee. 
It is the elected ruling body of the union.  
That is the reason we have a budget committee and a personnel committee. 
The Executive Committee needs full transparencies on the reasons and the needs of expenses, organizing plans, and the need for new employee positions. 
These decisions should not be made by the officers alone, nor should they be presented to the Executive Committee in a last minute, hurry up and vote, fashion. 
If we want a member run union, if we want our organization to be democratic we need our highest elected council to be one which is truly informed and involved in decision making not tacked on like a bureaucratic rubber stamp.
The officers are not alone in their responsibility to transparency. 
The Executive Committee has a responsibility to the membership to ensure transparency and the membership has a responsibility to demand it. 
Failure at any level in this area harms our members, but also harms the Labor Movement. 
Members communicate with their steward, stewards bring the issue to the local executive council, local leadership raises it at jurisdictional meetings with executive council members who bring it to the state federation and state federation officers are involved at the national level in meetings and by participating fully at our national convention.  
I work in a hospital; I know failure at any stage of the work flow can compromise the whole system.  We must be vigilant and demand a union which lives up to its promise at every level.
This lack of transparency is in contrast to what we stand for as a union.
There is nothing the anti union, right to work for less people want more, than a union that has even a hint of a lack of transparency to it. They will spread enough lies without our help. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

60 years in orbit

This week I celebrate the completion of my 60th trip around the sun.
Like everyone, I have good days and bad, but I am surrounded by an amazing group of family and friends, and my life has rich meaning and purpose.
I am reminded of Luke's story of the disciples, on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24)
The two walked along, discussing all that had happened when they were joined by a stranger, who had not heard what had transpired in Jerusalem. As they walked they told the story and in the evening they asked him to dine with them.  It was only when he broke the bread that they realized they were in the presence of their teacher.
As a look back, I see that, although I may have not realize it at the time, God has walked with me through the people who have shared my journey.
At age 60, I believe it is not my job to know the plan God has for me.
It is my job to trust the journey, and to realize that God will walk with me through people, whether I recognize His presence at the time or not.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Our Vision for Change 2

The second of four principles and goals of our team is Communication and Collaboration.  Let's take a look at this.
                                                        Communication and Collaboration
The words in italics are from AFT- CT: Our Vision for Change

If we believe in the movement, in the ideas that unions are working to better the lives of it's members and their communities, then that union must represent the voice of the membership. 
That is why it is a priority for our leadership team to commit itself to the goal of visiting with each and every Local of AFT Connecticut, no matter how big or small, throughout the year. Only by reaching out and encouraging conversations will we grow in strength.  
I know from my days organizing our union at Backus, the best conversation is a face to face conversation. 
When that is not possible, a telephone, email or text may have to suffice, but the use of email for voting on important issues must be kept to a minimum.  
The "E" in E-vote, should stand for "emergency," not "electronic."

At the same time we must encourage a free exchange of ideas. No one person has all the answers. 
A climate that is accepting to discussion and debate is essential. 
One of the things that I love about Jan is that she encourages us to disagree with her. That attitude will be extended to Local leaders and members.  

One reason to encourage the free expression of ideas is because we have some incredibly intelligent and creative people on our staff and as our members.  
We need to tap into the talent. The goal is to create a team driven to improve the lives of members.
That team includes leaders, members and staff working together.
My philosophy has always been this.
I can't be an expert on everything, but I can surround myself with talented people, encourage their input, and support them in their efforts and together we can do amazing things.
It's not rocket science. 
It's common sense and respect.
It's the second principle and goal of our team.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

All Work has Dignity

There is nothing so noble as a man or woman's hard work, yet many workers are are not treated fairly.
That is why we Fight for 15, because all work has dignity.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Our Vision for Change

I have been working with Jan Hochadel a lot lately and she will often say, "we must build a Union Movement we can be proud of."

Our leadership team has put together four principles and goals which will guide us as we work to build the kind of union and movement our members need and can be proud of.  They are: Membership First, Communication and Collaboration, Transparency, and Organization.
I would like to take the time to examine each of them.

Membership First
The words in italics are from AFT- CT: Our Vision for Change
The power of the union is in its collective voice. The job of leadership is to understand the needs and concerns of the members, to help them address those concerns, and when needed, facilitate collective action.
Leadership must be in contact and connected with the presidents of the locals, the executive boards, and the members.
Getting out of the office in Rocky Hill and visiting with the locals needs to be an ongoing thing. We cannot assume we understand how members feel, we must be listening to them. We cannot say to them "we got this," we must actually "get it" from them.
That is why we knock on doors during an organizing drive or a voting drive.  We go to where the members are, we listen to them, we learn from them, because it is about them. Consensus is built from the ground up, not from the top down.
This lesson was learned at L&M. The local presidents Harry, Lisa, and Stephanie showed real leadership by engaging their members. They did not have to seek politicians, because politicians sought them.
Back in my days of building airplanes, my boss liked to tell me, "We like the work you do. We'd like to see you do even more of it."
I enjoy conversations. I loved my days of organizing at Backus, of visiting with members in their living rooms, of sharing their hopes and dreams. I am excited about the prospect of doing even more, meeting even more members and finding the ways we can work together to build a bigger and better union.  I know it is not easy work, even if you love it.  It means long car rides and even longer hours but If we are to make our “Members First” principle a reality then we must really know our members and you just can’t do that over the phone or through email and certainly not by just sending them a newsletter.

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him... the people who give you their food give you their heart.”  
 César Chávez

We must always put members first, if not, why are we doing this?

To do that, we must feel what they feel, understand life as they understand it.
If we do, they will give their hearts to the Labor Movement, because it will be a Movement they can be proud of.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Planning your Work-Working your Plan-UCONN

It takes talent
It takes hard work
It takes team play
It takes preparation
It takes execution
It equals a win

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Defining "The Movement"

If you know anything about me you probably know I'm relatively new to this whole union thing.  It means I see things with fresh eyes and sometimes awe which some mistake for naiveté.  I just have a different relationship with the movement than many of our members. 
My editor said to me, "You write about 'the movement' and I know what you mean and you know what you mean, but I'm not sure all your readers know what you mean." 
How do you describe something you cannot see, something you cannot hold in your hand, something you must feel with your soul? 

I didn’t have a job where there is a union so for me the idea of THE movement is more literal. For me the movement is the the action one takes when they go from accepting the status quo to challenging it.  Literally moving from passive to active.

I saw them the 1st time out of the corner of my eye and didn't realize what was going on. When Kate grabbed my arm and said "John it's happening, let's go." I started piecing it together.  Karen had been featured in our newsletter and now the VP of nursing was down here to push back. Karen was holding her ground but we weren't gonna let her stand alone. As we walked down the hall going toward the conflict I felt my heart in my throat. The VP was on a mission to convince us we didn't need a union, that the hospital would "take care of us."  We weren't buying. We stood shoulder to shoulder with Karen, and by the time we were done, the VP left defeated and though we were still weeks till our vote, our union had been formed.  

Shortly after the nurses of my hospital voted to form a union, I was asked by AFT to go to Washington to testify before the National Labor Relations Board about the abuse and stall tactics we had to endure. 
Afterwards, at a reception at the AFL-CIO, I was asked to say a few words.  I told them that yes, I was new to the union movement, but I had grown up being taught: If a man has two coats, he should share one with the person who has none, I was taught all people, regardless of race, religion or station in life deserve respect and are my brother and sister, and no one should benefit at the expense of another. 

I returned from that trip with a new understanding of the movement and my place in it. 
Yes, I had just helped form a new union that wanted to put patients before profits, but we found ourselves part of this international movement that puts patients, students, workers, and all people before profits. A movement based on the ideals I had grown up with. 

I heard this story from a friend who was at the protest against the WTO in Seattle, when Labor, environmentalists and community leaders came together to protest a global corporate takeover.  When the protesters were being asked to leave and the police were staring them down They heard a whisper from behind them.  The protesters in the 2nd and 3rd rows were all whispering “Courage, Courage, Courage”.  I wonder if the same refrain was heard by the people in the front row on that Bridge in Selma in 1965. 

It's funny, but all these actions are what the movement is.  It's one little thing combined with a million other things.  Like grains of sand make a beach, little action on top of little action makes a movement.  They will say that our goals are too lofty and our heads are in the clouds.  We need to help them understand that when our feet take one little step the whole movement marches forward around the world.
So often in our movement we think it is all about the front row, staring down the boss, and giving the big speech, and sometimes it is. 
We must remember how important it is to be the person, two rows back, whispering:  
Courage, Courage, Courage

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The washing of the feet

Jesus' last meal on earth was the Passover Seder.
Christians rightfully remember it with the breaking of break and the blessing of wine, but I also enjoy how John tells the story:

Jesus washes the feet of His disciples after which He says:
"Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me "teacher" and "master," and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefor, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet.
I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

Happy Easter and Passover