Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thoughts from 36,000 feet

36,000 feet above Colorado going 500 miles an hour in a cramped medal tube with 136 other "souls."  
It's not a comfort knowing that they refer to airline passengers as "souls." (At least in airplane disaster movies)
But 5 hours from Hatford to Vegas!
Kind of incredible when you think of it, especially when you think how it can take 3 hours to drive the hundred miles from my home to Danbury, (one of our hospitals) depending on traffic. 
And Vegas.....
Been there once before. Not like anywhere else I've ever been. 

So why this trip?
PSRP PIC, or professional issues conference. AFT Connecticut is honored to include among our 30,000 members, dedicated Paraprofessionals and other school related professionals. 
As a nurse, I know how lost I would be without the other members of the healthcare team. In the middle of a true emergency, it's all hands on deck. I might have been directing care, but often it was the skilled hands of a paramedic starting an IV or a PCT obtaining a blood sample or EKG that made the difference. 
In the "emergency room" of our schools, our dedicated teachers might be directing the class but it is the skill of the PSRP working along side them that can make or break the day. 
So today my work takes me to Vegas, were I hope to learn more about this valuable work and get to know our members even better. 

Yes, getting up at 3:00 am to get to the airport isn't my idea of how to have fun, but the honor of being with our PSRP members for a few days makes it all worthwhile. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

A new economic reality

I am not a state worker and I have never been one.
I am a private sector emergency room Registered Nurse.
I am also vice president of  AFT Connecticut, a union that represents state workers, along with private and public sector nurses, techs, healthcare workers, teachers, paraprofessionals and others.
Their common thread is a dedication to those they serve.

Connecticut is facing "a new economic reality."
I get that.
I don't envy the governor of the legislators.
I have stood shoulder to shoulder with them many times in the past.
Tax revenues are down and I do believe in a balanced budget, otherwise we just kick the can down the road.  

But let me speak to two things I read recently.
One was a quote by Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, a woman I greatly admire, the other is a quote and an action by Pope Francis, a man I greatly admire.
Both are great leaders who accept a new reality and offer a solution that includes understanding, love, and shared sacrifice.

In response to the "new economic reality" and the call to cut state employee healthcare, but a refusal to look at new sources of income, Lori pointed out that just this week in New York State, 40 millionaires said in an open letter that they are willing to pay more in taxes for government services for the homeless and the needy.

"There's no reason Connecticut can't do that,'' Pelletier said.

She also urged passage of the so-called Wal-Mart bill, which would require employers of more than 500 workers to pay $15/hour or face a fine.  Currently, hard working people cannot make ends meet on their full time salaries and this places a financial burden on the state because other taxpayers must  help support them.
There is no reason families like the Waltons, who founded Wal-Mart and are five of the ten richest people in the world, should be subsidized.

Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees Yesterday and declared them all children of the same God, as he performed a gesture of welcome and brotherhood at a time of increased anti-Muslim sentiment following the Brussels attacks.
“All of us, together: Muslims, Hindi, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals. But brothers, children of the same God,” he said. 
Over and over again, this Pope has reiterated the fact that we are all sisters and brothers.  

If we truly believe this then let us take this "new economic reality" as a chance to truly be sisters and brothers, to truly share in what has been given to us.  Let us follow the example of the New York 40, and turn this "new economic reality" into an example of shared sacrifice.

It is time for the richest among us to contribute to their sisters and brothers.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wine, bread, and love

For those of us who follow the teachings of the Galilean rabbi, today is a special day.
The Passover meal is a celebration of God's love for his people.
Jesus celebrates this love of the Father, and shares bread and wine with those closest to him on his last night on earth.

Of all the ways he could have spent those last hours, this is what he chose.
In doing so, he teaches us a very important lesson.
We all have a higher power and all follow a set of ethical beliefs.
One does not have to believe in "God" or "heaven" to be a believer.
One has to believe that we are all interconnected.  That interconnection is our higher power, by whatever name we give it.

Jesus shared companionship, wine and bread as one of his last acts because he believed this higher power, which he called "Abba," (Aramaic for "daddy") is an intimate relationship between peoples, where we are interdependent on one another and share our love and our treasures.

In this time when we seem to be so polarized, when the gap between the rich and the poor seems so great, we should remember how the Galilean lived and what he taught.  

Even on that last night, he shared.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

If this is Saturday.......this must be Milldale.

The coldness of the kitchen floor was unacceptable to the bottom of my feet as I shuffled to the stove to put the water on for tea.
It's sooo early.
My bed was so warm.
Why am I up?

But.....if this is Saturday, this must be Milldale.

 For the last couple weekends and for the next few, Saturday consists of breakfast and sometimes lunch with members and legislators. It's important work, and I reminded myself that I'm not the only one up early on a Saturday.
Hundreds of our members are up to.
Gathering together in towns with names like East Lyme, Middletown, Milldale, Bristol, Hartford, Danbury.

AFT Connecticut legislative breakfast and lunch are like speed dating with the legislators. Tables filled with members having breakfast or lunch who usually know each other from work, sometimes not. Legislators spend 15 or 20 minutes at each table and then are directed by our lobbyist or our member mobilizer to move to the next table so that everyone gets a few minutes with them.
Quite often, it's hard to get the legislators to move. The conversations they are in the mist of with our members matters to them. Not only because our members represent 30,000 households in Connecticut, but because they see it our members what they saw in themselves when they became legislators.
They see a desire and a passion to make this a better society.

So on this Saturday, I'm off to Milldale and then to Hartford. By the time I return home it will be early evening. But it is not a burden, it is an honor, a sentiment I feel I share with all the officers. An honor because I am with our members and they are advocating for their communities and their families, for their patients and their students and for the public they serve.

So, as the water begins to boil for the tea and as the kettle begins its whistle, signaling that my tea water is ready, it also signals that we as a union are ready.

And I'm off for Milldale.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

We (Irish) are an immigrant people

They came by the millions, fleeing a society that allowed they and their children to starve because of the "potato famine," but in reality it was because of greed.
While the potato blight did cause a shortage of  potatoes, a staple of the diet, it was greed that continued the export of the beef and grains that were abundant and could have saved millions of  lives.

The lucky ones came to America, where they faced discrimination as being from a different "race" than the English.  They were met with signs stating "No Irish need apply" and the jobs they could get were the most dangerous and dirty to be found, the ones no one else would take.
So many wives became widows and so many children orphans that an Irish-Catholic priest in New Haven, CT gathered together a group of people to form a mutual aide society to provide for them. That society would become the Knights of Columbus and is why it still sells insurance.

But the Irish would not lie down.
Instead, they would organize.

They knew their strength was in their numbers and they formed Unions and stood together.
They entered politics and mobilized voters and they took over the cities.
They became the Police and the Firefighters.

We are an immigrant people, like every other people who came to this New Land.
Even our Native Americans migrated from Asia.

Like others before and since us, we have struggled and we have survived by standing together against greed.
Americans of all nationalities would do well to remember their immigrant roots, and build bridges, not walls.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Turns out, you learn a lot listening to members

I was glad that I've had enough accounting classes to be able to follow.
As I looked around the room, I was not the only one listening intently.
The half-dozen state legislators present were on the the edges of the chairs, listening to state workers, accounts, members of AFT Connecticut local A&R, explain how the state could help close the current budget deficit.

As it turns out, you can learn a lot by listening to your members. 

I was in the living room of Nathan and Toni Karnes, who had invited me to be a part of their legislative house party. We were joined by a dozen or so A&R members and about a half-dozen Connecticut state legislators. 
Earlier in the day, I had attended a legislative breakfast in East Lyme and a legislative lunch in Willamantic, now I was in Windsor at Nathan and Toni's house. 

My takeaways is this. 
Our members are incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable in the work they do.
Healthcare, education, and state workers tell stories that are different and yet they're all the same.

These are not the "greedy state workers"  that we read about in the paper. These are Connecticut citizens presenting real ideas to their legislators on saving state money.

Much like the stories I hear from healthcare workers about working through break and lunch to care for their patients, much like the stories I hear of teachers about correcting papers late at night after putting their own children to bed, much like the stories I hear of paraprofessionals working a second job to make ends meet and then taking a portion of those precious dollars and buying food so that their students will not go hungry on the weekend, these state workers told me of emailing their commissionor on Saturdays and Sundays from home, to make sure meetings are set up for Monday morning.

In that living room, they did not complain about possible layoffs or furloughs, that did not complain that they have already given so much, they had honest conversations with their legislators about common sense answers to real state budget problems.
You see.....
These state workers are not the problem.
They are the answer.
And we can learn a lot by listening to them.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

I never planned

I never planned to be a nurse.
Had I not been laid off so many times and had I not been given the opportunity to be in a state run program to retrain, taken an aptitude test, scored high in math and science, and had nursing recommended, I would have never been a nurse.
I never planned to be a unionist.
Had the hospital I worked at not taken everything from the staff, but more importantly the patients (including the peanut butter), had I not received a phone call from another nurse activist friend, had I not met Ole, who would become my organizer, my editor, and my bother, I would have never become a unionist.
I never planned to be a local president.
Had I not become involved, had I not been asked to speak at rallies, had I not been asked to sit at the negotiations table, had other nurses not looked to me for leadership, had  the situation at the hospital not become so intolerable, I would have never become a local president.
I never planned to be a writer.
Had I not started writing emails of encouragement to the other Backus Nurse activists, had I net felt the overwhelming urge to tell my story, had Ole not agreed to be my editor, I might not have ever written over 550 blog entries and become a fledgling writer.
I never planned to be a state federation vice president.
Had I not been mentored by the three presidents of our sister hospital, L+M (Lisa, Stephanie and Harry), had I not become involved with coalitions with our other Hartford Hospital union leaders at Windham and Natchaug Hospitals (HOPE), had I not been asked to be involved with AFT national at conventions and on task forces, had Jan and Ed not seen something in me that I did not, I would have never become a state federation vice president.

The strangest thing is that I am a planner, I'm almost obsessive about it at times.
I did plan on working a few more years, retiring, and spending winters in Florida or some other warm climate. I did plan on spending more time at home with Michelle.
Now......I just don't know what the future holds......and I'm OK with that.

I think planning is important, even critical, it's one of the tenant of our caucus (PLANS), and I'm very much a STEM person, logical, scientific, etc, but sometimes you have to go with the flow, just see what life brings you.
Unionism, leadership, nursing, life and even writing,  all share this commonality. They are a blend of art and science. You have to sit at the keyboard before the thoughts can get on paper, you have to show up before you can lead, you have to nurse with your brain but also your heart,
and you have to care before you can change the world.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thoughts from the LOB

Right now I'm sitting in a hearing room at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, waiting for my turn to testify on 4 bills on healthcare, including 3 which effect school nurses.
It's a very interesting process.  Someone from our office needs to be here early in the day to draw a number in a "lottery." I've done it myself. In fact, this year I've been on a roll in drawing low numbers. But this morning someone else drew my number for me.

The room is large, with seats lining 3 sides, 2 rows deep.  The seats are spring loaded, like seats in a ballpark, and if someone stands without holding the seat, it quickly pops up with a large "pop," that can startle one if they are not ready for it.  It's usually someone new to the room and they are embarrassed by it.
The senators and representatives sit on the sides of two long oblong arcing tables, open in the middle.  At one end of the oblong sits the two chairpersons and at the other end is the person testifying. around the two sides of the oblong sit the rest of the committee, nameplates in front of them. Legislators come and go thought-out the process, off to take phone calls, testify in other committee rooms, speak to staff and other legislators, grab lunch, etc.  This sometimes presents a strange look to the room with one chairperson at one end of the room, very few other legislators, and the person testifying at the other end. 
It would be like sitting at the end of a 50 foot dinning room table, your partner at the other end, and no one on the sides.
I always feel like we should pull up a chair closer to the legislators, but I've not yet suggested it.

The actual testifying isn't that complicated or hard. You get 3 minutes and you can read your testimony, speak form notes, or just wing it and once you've done it a few times it gets more comfortable. Then the legislators get to ask you questions. Sometimes they do, often they don't.
Sometimes the committees will start early in the day and go late into the night.  There is no cut off as far as number of people who can testify.
While I'm in this room, Jan is in another room testifying on the state budget.  We've been up here a lot the past 3 weeks, as have so many of our members, testifying on teacher issues, healthcare, the budget, and state employee contracts.

Why do it?
Because it puts a face, and it puts a story, to what otherwise is a lot of legal words on a white paper.  It helps legislators understand how each bill, each budget, each contract, effect real people.

Well, my turn is about to come up so I'll sign off now but I encourage others to experience this for themselves.  It's a unique opportunity to take part in our democratic process.

Written 3/2/16 from the Legislative Office Building, Hartford, CT