Thursday, May 28, 2015

9 shifts

I cleaned up my desk today.  
I've collected a lot of paperwork in the past 4 years!

I'm closing one chapter in my life and starting another.
Soon, my most able Vice President will be my president, and I will be a member of her executive board.
I will also be her state federation Vice President. 

For this to happen, I not only must give up the presidency of the local I have devoted the last 4 years to, I must give up bedside nursing.

I am ready to do both.
It's time.
I have served with an incredible executive board and I move on to serve with an equally increadable board.
I am excited by what we will accomplish together. 

The Backus Federation of Nurses is like my child and bedside nursing has been life.  
21 years in the same emergency room is a long time and I will admit the work has never been this difficult but I do worry a bit that I will miss the patients, the give an take, the trying to find their sense of humor to ease their mind and their pain.

And I will miss those patients with whom I know my skills made a difference, the heart attracks who's EKG returned to normal because of my quick interventions, the strokes who regained movement because I administered clot busters quickly, the septic patients who reqained a blood pressure comparable with life because I gave them fluids and antibiotics stat.
When I cared for these patients, time stood still. Four hours could go by in the blink of an eye.  On days like that I was like the baseball player who saw each pitch as if in slow motion, saw each seam of the ball as it came to home plate.

I also worry about my fellow nurses, whom I have hugged and consoled when they lost a patient, especially a young one.
I know someone else will be there for the patients, and for the nurses.

But still...

I have 9 shifts left.
When I leave, I leave knowing I have an obligation to fight like hell for these nurses and all the workers we represent, in healthcare, education and the private sector. 
And because I know I will have the opportunity to do that, and an incredible group of leaders and staff to work with, am ready for the new chapter of my life to begin.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Together we are strong

Last week I was in Chicago at the AFT/NFN Healthcare Professional Issues Conference/Labor Academy.
While there, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Alice Leo, the president of the Porter Federation of Nurses and health professionals.
She told her story about how they became frustrated with trying and failing to improve care at their hospital in Vermont and how they worried for their employment if they spoke out too vigorously.
Then she told how they organized and gained a voice.
As she spoke I felt she was telling MY story, and probably the story of anyone who has lived through an organizing drive.
Afterwards, I approached her, introduced myself, and explained how her story had touched me.
We shared the commonalities of how we had organized, became leaders, and then presidents.
We shared our worries, worries that perhaps only presidents understand.
I offered her my support, for her, and her members.

One of the primary responsibilities of anyone who works in healthcare, education, or public service is to advocate for those in they care for, educate or serve.
If we cannot do this without fear of reprisal, then we cannot be effective.

That is what lead the nurses of Backus and Porter to organize, that is what is leading our brothers and sisters of Danbury.
I salute the nurses of Porter and the workers at Danbury and pledge my support, my solidarity.
Together, we are strong.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Now is the time to use our voices

I am in Chicago for the AFT/NFN professional issues conference/Labor Academy.
It has been an incredible conference in terms of speakers, presentations, and the opportunity to connect and reconnect with other activists. For the first time, I was asked to be a presenter.

I have also had multiple chances to meet with my fellow AFT Connecticut Vice President Jean Morningstar and national staff and leadership about the future of the state fed/national relationship and how we can work together for the good of our members and how we can organize future members.

A lot has happened in a short amount of time but perhaps that's fitting.  A lot has happened in my life in the past 5 years and in this country in the last 30 years.

Income inequality grows daily.
The top 25 hedge fund managers now make more than the combined wages of all the kindergarten teachers in the country!
CEOs and other top hospital executives make over a million dollars a year while patients lay on stretchers in the hall.
Workers are fired because they need time off to care for elderly parents or are are injured on the job and their FMLA runs out.
Parents are forced to work 2 or more jobs and miss valuable needed time with their children.
Profits come before family, students, and patients.

But all is not dire my brothers and sisters.
People are becoming aware and with that awareness, they are becoming active.
They are speaking with their legislators, they are organizing community activism groups, they are forming unions and they are fighting back.
They are demanding patients before profits.

I am very glad my nurses and I have a new contract.  It is important. But collective action has and always will be more powerful than collective bargaining.

We have much work to do.
We must adapt a culture of activism, and the belief that we are the union.
We must reach out to our non union brothers and sisters and help them find their voice, whether that be by organizing into unions or community groups.

It can be done.
I know, I have seen it happen, I have been a part of it.
Once I had no voice, and now I do.

Now is the time for us all to use that voice.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

They shouldn't have taken the peanut butter

The last few days have been amazing!
On Wednesday the Backus Nurses reached a tentative agreement on a 3 year contract and on Friday our membership overwhelmingly ratified it.
Yesterday our team was elected to the leadership of AFT Connecticut:
Jan Hochadel as President
Myself as Executive VP
Jean Morningstar as 1st VP
Ed Leavy as Secretary/Treasurer
Tomorrow I'm off to Chicago for the AFT/NFN Professional Issues Conference/Labor Academy.

I won't lie.  My voice may have been steady as I gave my speech before the convention, but my hands were not.  
Nerves, excitement, maybe both?
I told the story of the house visit to a nurse who decided to vote to unionize because the hospital had taken away the peanut butter that she used to feed her chemo patients, if they felt they could tolerate food.
It wasn't all they had taken from her, it was what they took from her patients that mattered.

I told the delegates that I would never stop fighting for people like that nurse.
In Jan, Jean and Ed, I have found 3 people who feel the same.
But then again, we are not only a union of professionals, we are a union of professionals who understand the frustration of my nurse and stand in solidarity with her.
It is an honor to be elected with Jan, Jean and Ed and our executive board VPs and to represent the 29,000 caring members from education, public service and healthcare.

Tonight I spoke with Glen Scott, the organizer who was with me when we visited the "peanut butter" nurse.  She remembers that visit too. Amazingly, she is visiting Chicago and we may get to see each other tomorrow.  That would be cool!

So many people and so many events have played a part to get us to this point. (including the peanut butter)
The future looks exciting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Advocating in the workplace and the capital

My friend Lesa Hanson said that when she became involved with the organizing drive, she realized that being nurse meant advocating at the bedside, in the boardroom and in the capital. 
I was remembering this as I flew back from Washington after a day of lobbying.
There were a hundred other ways I could have spent my two days off this week, but advocating for patients, students and our members is part of who I am, part of being a nurse. 
This is an important part of what we do as a union and I'm glad to be able to be a part of advocating for changes.
We have a lot going on at the hospital the as we negotiate a new contract and the rest of my week will be devoted to making improvements for our hospital and for our members, but last night it was good to be back home with Michelle, knowing I did my part to advocate.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

PLANs for AFT Connecticut

The PLANs ticket for AFT Connecticut is dedicated to the ideals of putting members first, open communication and collaboration, transparency, and long range strategic planning.
These principles are essential for the future of our state federation and the labor movement.

Next Saturday we will make a decision about the direction of our union.
The PLANs ticket of officers, jurisdictional, and at large vice presidents is ready to lead.
Jan brings teacher experience, John brings healthcare experience and Jean brings years of helping state workers.
They bring experience in both public and private sector unions, organizing, and relationships with AFT national and political allies.
Jan and Jean have extensive experience in leading large locals and John understands not only the challenges of leading a small local but of organizing it and building it from the ground up as well.
All three are respected advocates on the national level.
Perhaps more important, the ticket brings the voices and the ears of over 20 leaders who will each speak their own mind, each listen and be listened to and each contribute. 

There is much work to do, in organizing of healthcare facilities, in internal organizing, in staff and leadership development and in coalition building with AFT national and other unions.
There is no question as to the dedication of any of the candidates for office, but our state federation and the greater labor community needs more than commitment. It needs the skills to organize, plan and carry out that plan, and it needs transparency and openness to new ideas
The PLANs ticket provides what is needed.
We look forward to your support in the election and your involvement post-election.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A week celebrating educators, healthcare, and public servants

AFT is a "Union of Professionals", and represents education, health care, and public service workers. I like to call it a union of caregivers.

It is fitting that this week is Teacher Appreciation Week, National Nurses Week and Public Service Recognition Week, celebrating teachers, paraprofessionals and others who work in education, nurses, techs and other healthcare workers, and all who work in public service. 

All three groups are important and together we make up what is AFT.
I am proud that the PLANs ticket for AFT Connecticut officers includes Jan Hochadel's teaching experience, my healthcare experience, and Jean Morningstar's years of helping state workers and includes experience in both private and public sector unions.

Thank you to all our members for your service to your communities every day.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Our Vision for Change 4

The fourth principle and goal of our team is Organization. 
The words in italics are from AFT- CT: Our Vision for Change
"Are we there yet?"
Every parent knows this phrase coming from the back of the car.

But shouldn't the real questions be where are we going and how will we get there?
For us to move forward, we need to work together to form a vision of where we are going, and develop short and long-term plans on how we will get there.
We need to analyze how we spend our money and how we can be more effective. We need to budget for needed facility and technology upgrades with a strategic plan.
We will work with the staff, AFT-National, and the Executive Committee to develop three and five-year financial and organizing plans.
An organizing drive takes an incredible amount of planning involving many people and organizations.  Yes, the plan needs to be adjusted as the situation changes, but first, we have to have a plan to adjust.
The same holds true for a financial plan or a plan to organize several sites.
We can't just "wing it."
We believe in leadership that works as hard as its members.  Effective leadership requires a presence.  Our members must feel that we are standing beside them in their struggle for respect and dignity in the workplace.
That statement summarizes why we organized at Backus. Management did not stand with us and offered no respect or dignity.
Speaking for myself, Unionism is a 24/7 endeavor because it is not a "job" to me, it is a vocation.

So, I have covered the four principles and goals of our team.
Membership First
Communication and Collaboration
Taken together, they are a vision that our team shares.  A vision that is based on the premise that we must build a union we can all be proud of.