Thursday, December 31, 2015

That was an interesting year

That was an interesting year.

I went from bedside to boardroom and had enough experiences to write a book.
(maybe I will some day)

I started the year as an ER registered nurse, in my 16th year as a nurse and my 21st year in the ER.  I was treating heart attacks, traumas, ODs, and cut fingers.  I was literally a part of saving lives and sometimes not being able to save them.

I was president of the Backus Nurse's Local and fighting management to protect my member's rights.
Now I'm State Federation VP and fighting for the rights of 30,000 members but also finding myself a manager of our own staff.
It's quite a change.

Along the way I have established and deepened relationships with so many people, some of whom I knew previously, some I have met, and some I only knew from afar.
Although no longer in a position to have to make life and death decisions, I now have to make decisions that can effect a larger number of people's lives.

I was asked which position was more stressful by some education visitors from Baltimore.
I guess you have to be in healthcare to understand.

The decisions I now make weigh heavy on my heart, sometimes incredibly heavy. 
My work day often extends to 9 or 10 in the evening and I may not be in the office on the weekends but I am probably working every day of the week......
But, it is not the same as titrating multiple IV drips in an effort to keep someone's father alive, it is not the same as standing with a young mother when she realizes her infant is not going to wake up, it is not the same as hugging a new nurse as she cries after caring for and stabilizing a young car accident victim who is her brother's age, as she watches him being shipped to a higher level of care hospital, not being sure what his final outcome will be, and telling her she did a good job...she gave him a chance.

My transition has not been without bumps in the road.  I was not perfect as a nurse and I'm not perfect as a leader.  I make mistakes. I do hope I learn from them.  I have an incredible amount of support, at home from Michelle who has been there for me for 40 years, and at work from incredible leadership partners and staff and from supporters from around the state and country.

I do want to say something about my transition.  When I ran for this office, I ran as a part of a ticket.  I was not running to replace the then sitting VP, I was running because I believed in the ticket as a whole.
I had a discussion with Steve early in the campaign and explained this.  We agreed that we would refrain from any negative campaigning.  He kept his word and he assisted me in the transition.  He is a gentleman in every sense of the word and I thank him for his service.  I hope I can be as much a gentleman when the time comes that someone runs against me.

No one can know what the new year will bring, but Labor is at a crossroad.
Union membership is at an all-time low and we are being assaulted in the courts by cases designed to deal a death blow, yet public opinion polls show more people now see unions in a positive light. Perhaps we realize that incredible income inequality and the shrinking of the middle class is turning us into a society of haves and have nots.  People see that standing together in unions may be the only thing that can reverse this trend.
We have our work cut out for us, but being a unionist is like being a nurse. 
It's not a profession, it's a vocation.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Message

He was born in a foreign land in a stable because he was both an immigrant and homeless. His mother conceived before she was married. He grew up to be a carpenter, taught by his father to work with his hands, and later an itinerant preacher. He never traveled far, never attended college, never wrote a book, and never had his own church. I’m told his longest speech was the Sermon on the Mount in which he summarized all his teachings in what takes 12 minutes to read.
He spoke of sharing what we had with others, that we were all brothers and sisters, that we should welcome the homeless, the sick, the poor, the marginalized.
These were the teachings of Jesus, the poor Jewish poor who’s birthday we celebrate and who’s teachings are similar to the teachings of most of the world’s religions and philosophies.
Which leads me to questions.
How can greed and financial success for a few at the expense of the many be OK? How can we talk about building a wall between us and our brothers and sisters to the south? How can we talk with such hate about an entire religion and threaten to bar them from our homeland? How can this country, that evokes the name of God on our currency, not be outraged by such things, not be embarrassed, not say to ourselves, is this the teaching of the one who’s birthday we celebrate?
It is easy to become discouraged, but we must not.
We must recognize the danger that people who speak with such hate pose and we must speak out against it, we must stand in solidarity against those who would benefit at the expense of others, but we must also remember that across this country and the world there our people who do believe, people who toil daily to bring a voice to the voiceless, respect to all, fairness, enough food, a living wage, medical care, an end to discrimination and bigotry, and we must celebrate, support, and encourage such people.
I wish you the brotherly love that this season should mean.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


This week the Connecticut Working Families party honored 15 workers for the work they do in helping achieve equality, fairness and respect.
It also awarded special awards to three remarkable leaders who stand out in special ways.
Wildaliz Bermudez received the Merilee Milstein Award to Organizing, Activism & Leadership. She is a newly elected Hartford Councilwoman who fights for improvements in Hartford's schools, for a cleaner environment, and for Universal Healthcare in CT. She has advocated as a community organizer in New Haven and Hartford with the poor, the immigrants, and people of color.
State Senator Marilyn Moore received the Progressive Political Leadership Award. She is a lifelong community activist and now a CT State Senator. She is an advocate for health equality, living wage, the hungry, and the quality of life for all of Connecticut's residents.
AFT CT President Jan Hochadel received the Brian Petronella Labor Leader Award. She is an engineer by training, who returned to school and became a physics teacher in the CT State Vocational/Technical School System. She was teacher of the year in 2006-2007. She became an activist in her union which represents the 1600 teachers of the system (SVFT), eventually becoming it's president. She is a national leader in the Vocational/Technical school movement which is now being recognized as an important and desirable career path for students. This past summer she was elected as President of the 30,000 members of AFT Connecticut, and represents members in education, healthcare, and public service. She is an emerging national leader in the labor movement.
It was an honor to hear them all speak and afterwards to have the chance to speak with Wildaliz and Marilyn. they are inspiring.

Jan is my friend. We met in 2014 at our national AFT convention. She was considering a run for AFT CT president and was told she should meet me to hear about healthcare issues in Connecticut. In 2011 I had been involved in the successful organizing drive of Backus Hospital and was elected president of the Local. She asked if we could meet sometime back in Connecticut and we did, sitting for 4 1/2 hours talking about healthcare, but more about my experiences in organizing Backus and her experiences in mobilizations of public sector workers in right to work states. Although our backgrounds and our activism history are different, we were united in our outlook of the world and the labor movement.  We see all things from the perspective of organizing, not servicing.

I had never been conscious that I viewed the world this way until I met her.

We continued to meet and eventually she asked me to join as her running mate.  It was an easy "yes" for me.
At some point I was telling a mutual friend about our 4 1/2 hour meeting and saying it had felt like only 10 minutes and she said, OMG, Jan described it to her in the same way.
Jan is a remarkable leader and an incredible hard worker.
She has the ability to see and plan the big picture, to develop the details and metrics for success, and then to carry it out and get others to carry it out with her.
I wanted to tell her that she can't do it all herself, in an effort to get her to concentrate on the picture from 30,000 feet. The problem is, she is the one person I know who CAN do it all.
Her work can be incredibly stressful at times and come with decisions that effect so many people and yet she will tell you it is the best job in the world.
The truth is, I have the best job in the world, because I get to work with my friend and be a part of her journey.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

ALL workers deserve respect

This week I had to be part of one of the most difficult decisions a union leader has to make.
The dedicated Healthcare workers of Danbury and New Milford hospitals are attempting to form a union.  These are the people who do the most important work in the hospital. They clean and disinfect the rooms and the OR, they work as CNAs and help patients clean up, get to the bathroom, and a million other tasks, they answer the phones and input orders in the computers and so much more.
They are the life of the hospital.
They are also the people who get the least respect, and that is just so wrong on so many levels.
In June they voted and narrowly missed forming a union but the federal government ruled that the hospital had so egregiously violated their right to a free, fair, and impartial election that they ordered a new vote. That vote was to have been yesterday.
Unfortunately, the hospital continued is disrespect and intimidation tactics and made a fair election impossible.
Earlier this year, they hired a union busting firm (including a convicted felon who had served time) and gave them access to patient care areas to intimidate the workers.
In the last few weeks, managers illegally promised healthcare workers a 5% raise if they voted against forming a union and no raise if they voted yes.
They threatened elimination of the nursing program, layoffs, and that workers "would have to go through the union to get vacations" if they voted for unionizing.
They even lied and told workers there would be a $500 initiation fee to join the union.  AFT has never had an initiation fee.
Workers have been so bullied that they are afraid to go on record about these things but they will tell you in private.
In short, the actions show a complete disrespect by management towards the workers.
I know these workers. I have spent time with them in planning meetings and house visits.  I cried with them in June. And this week I cried again, when I had to face the reality that proceeding at this time in a second election under these circumstances was unfair to them.  
In consultation with the worker's leadership and the leadership and dedicated staff of AFT national and AFT Connecticut, the officers of AFT Connecticut recommended withdrawal from the election.
The workers did not fail, they are incredibly strong and dedicated sisters and brothers and they will live to fight another day.
This Wednesday, another group, the Technologists and Therapists of the same hospitals will hold their own vote on unionizing.  They have faced the same disrespect and intimidation as the Healthcare workers.
When they vote overwhelmingly YES, they will be saying to the hospital management that ALL WORK HAS MEANING and ALL WORKERS DESERVE RESPECT and they will be saying they stand in solidarity with their Healthcare worker sisters and brothers.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

AFT Connecticut goes to Washington

I’m riding on the train from Washington to home with the offices of AFT Connecticut.

We started with a day-long meeting on Friday in Connecticut, followed by 2 days in Philadelphia, and then 2 days is DC.

A lot of meetings, a lot of travel.

We met in Philadelphia with AFT leaders from across the northeast and in DC with leadership from A&R (our largest affiliate in Connecticut), leaders from AFT North Dakota and representatives of many of the departments of AFT in an “orientation” of  leadership.  We also met with AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFT Executive Secretary/Treasurer Loretta Johnson and their staffs.

We began a process of long range strategic planning for our state federation on Friday and that continued through the weekend. I want to give special thanks to Randi’s Chief Counsel, Mark Richards, for helping us with all this.  His experience, expertise, and guidance is wonderful.

We travelled many geographical miles, but more than that, we travelled many miles towards the goal that Jan set when she assembled this leadership team, a Union that puts Members First, that is built on Communication & Collaboration, Transparency, and Organization.

Our members work incredibly hard, in our schools, our hospitals, health centers, as VNAs, and as public servants.  They deserve leadership that believes in them, works as hard as they do, and are good stewards of their trust.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Save our hospitals

I first worked in a hospital in 1994 as a CNA in the emergency room.
The hospital was a different place then.
The president would walk about and visit with each department at least once a week.
I know he wasn't perfect, but he did seem to care, about the staff and the patients.
I felt I had found my home.
I returned to school and became a Registered Nurse and felt like I could make a real difference in people's lives.

At some point the president was asked to leave and replaced with someone who had no healthcare experience, who moved his office off campus and who looked at the hospital as a business that just happened to have patients.
Employees became an expense, not a resource.
Our voice started to be ignored and our patients suffered.
If we spoke up, we were spoken to.
Now the hospital is part of a "system," the president is "regional director," and he makes near $1.5million a year!

This would be a sad enough story if not for one more thing.
This story is being repeated at hospitals across our state and country.

Right now, workers and the community of Windham Connecticut are fighting to keep needed services from closing.  The "reason" for closing the ICU is "lack of need" but the fact is that the only reason there is a "lack of need" is because the system that owns the hospital wants to ship ICU patients over 30 minutes away to the main hospital.  
The community will suffer.

In Danbury Connecticut, workers at the hospital have voted to unionize to have a voice. Management hired convicted criminals and gave them access to patient care areas in an attempt to intimidate the workers.
The money to intimidate the workers is money intended to be used for patient care, much of it our tax money in the form of medicare and medicaid payments.

At the same time, the Connecticut Hospital Association is waging a media campaign to increase taxpayer funding to hospitals.  The director of CHA makes $800,000/year.
Where does CHA get its funding?
Hospitals pay dues to CHA.
That dues money is also taken from patient care dollars, our tax money.


Why fight workers, why fight the community, why pay dues to CHA?

Executives at Connecticut's not for profit hospitals make lots and lots of money, often over $1million/year.
Unions formed by workers speak out against this abuse of taxpayer's dollars and cuts to vital services and are a threat to executives salaries.

Perhaps if CHA dues money came out of the pockets of the executives things would be different, but they are basically playing with our money and have nothing to lose.

I know this is difficult to believe.  We want to think well our our community hospitals.
At one time we could and we still can, but we have to remember that our community hospitals are  the Nurses, Techs, Therapists, and healthcare workers.
These dedicated workers are trying to save our community hospitals from greed and misuse of our tax dollars.
They need our help.