Saturday, April 30, 2016

Work shouldn't hurt, Workers' Memorial Day

The bagpipes always get me,
and the bugle.
and the tolling of the bell.

April 28 is Workers' Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have died or been injured on the job or as a result of their work.
Workers hit by cars while repairing roads, police and military killed protecting us, firefighters while they rushed into buildings that the rest of us run from, workers like my brother in law Wayne who die from mesothelioma or asbestos from workplace exposure, teachers in first grade classes at Sandy Hook Elementary, nurses and other healthcare workers who face daily attacks while caring for others, and so many, many more.

As I stood in Bushnell Park in Hartford, waiting for the ceremony to begin, I knew the bagpipes and the bugle would get to me, they always do, They remind me of the sound of human crying.
As they rang the bell, over and over, once after each name was read, I asked myself the same question everyone else did....

When we spend resources, we make workplaces safer.
When we pass laws and regulations to make employers do the right thing, the safe thing, we make workplaces safer.
When we truly believe that every worker deserves to go home to their families at the end of their shift, we make workplaces safer.

But when we cave to the rhetoric that "times our tough' and that there is a "new economic reality" workers continue to be injured and die.

This is the richest country in the world.
Unemployment is at historical low rates.
Times are not "bad," times are good.

Our priorities are "bad."

We put profits before people.
We put "capitalism" and "free market" before people.
Corporations and the top !%  have, for the most part, no belief that they have an ethical responsibility towards mankind.

May 1 is International Workers' Day.
It is fitting it follows Workers' Memorial Day so quickly.
It is a day to realign our priorities, a day to examine our ethical responsibility and realize we are all in this together.
A day for workers to rededicate ourselves to the belief not in "a new economic reality" but in the belief that we are all sisters and brothers, in this together, with an ethical responsibility towards each other.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thoughts from the AFT HNP Professional Issues Conference

“Know your audience,” said Lauren Samet, the Assistant Director of AFT PSRP, as she addressed the conference Saturday about effective public speaking.

I spent this week in Washington at the AFT Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Lobby Day, Professional Issues and Leadership Conference.

As she said it, I thought back to Thursday when I was preparing to introduce Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney to the conference.  As we waited for Joe’s turn to speak, he leaned over and asked if the members in attendance were all healthcare providers.  I said yes, nurses, techs, and other healthcare workers from across the country, many of them his constituents.
It was just what Lauren had said, “Know your audience.”

As always, the Healthcare PIC was fantastic.
On Wednesday we lobbied on Capitol Hill.  85 members made 200 office visits to Senators, Congresspeople, and OSHA.  We spoke to them about safe staffing, ratios, safe patient handling, workplace violence, prescription price gouging, and the current issues with Opioids, Zika and the Flint Michigan water crisis.
Thursday and Friday were full of sessions on topics important to our professions and wonderful speakers.  President Randi spoke, VP Mary Catherine instructed a session, and even I got to present with Kyle Arnone on hospital finances.
Saturday was an additional day on leadership. 

It wasn’t all work however, there were evening receptions and “team building” after the receptions, and there were conversations with friends, both new and old.
I’ll share one example.  

Alice Leo is a nurse from Vermont whom I deeply admire.  In 2013 she and her colleges organized their hospital, Porter Medical Center, much as we had done 2 years before at Backus.  We had a conversation with nurses from Montana about their organizing drive.  It was emotionally fulfilling for me, to relive the experience though the eyes of Alice and the Montana nurses.  I’m sure the Montana nurses feel we did them a great favor, but in truth, they did us just as great a favor.

That’s what unions and Professional Issue Conferences are all about, people coming together from across the country and sharing their knowledge and solidarity.

It was great to reconnect with staff, members and leaders whom I have come to know over the last few years, it was great to be there with the Connecticut delegation, and a privilege to co-present with Kyle.  The opportunity to introduce two of the Connecticut’s U.S. Representatives, Joe Courtney and Rosa Delaura, to my healthcare sisters and brothers was an amazing honor.

Thursday night we held a reception, complete with dancing.  As the evening was coming to a close and the DJ played the last song, a completely spontaneous moment of solidarity occurred.

Prince’s “Purple Rain” brought all to the floor. Forming a circle and clasping hands together and held high, we swayed to the music, the sisters and brothers of AFT NHP, in solidarity.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Work Shouldn't Hurt

I wrapped the blood pressure cuff nervously around his forearm because his upper arm was so massive that the cuff would not encircle it.
He didn't speak, but is eyes darted back and forth, seemingly studying everything and everybody in the room.
I was an emergency room patient care tech at the time and my job was to observe him and keep him safe while he waited for his psychiatric exam.
In cases like this, I often had the same unspoken question in my mind, "who would keep me safe?"

He was in his room and I observed him on a camera from near-bye. He had spoken to his nurse saying he felt unsafe and could hurt himself, she had told him he was safe and to rest on the stretcher, which he did.
His back was to the camera and though I could see he was fiddling with something, I could not see what.

Suddenly, he was off the stretcher, He had fashioned his sheet into a noose and attached it to the side of the stretcher, just out of my line of vision.
He wrapped it around his neck and lay on the floor, tightening it with his weight.

I yelled for help and rushed into the room, I struggled to remove the noose and was successful.
He jumped to his feet and wrapped those massive arms around my head, placing me in a headlock.

Security was quickly there, he was controlled, and I was safe, but to this day I do not know if it was security's quick response or because the patient did not want to harm me, that I have to thank for my life.
I am sure of one thing, had he wanted to, he could have snapped my neck.

My boss, who was a kind and good boss, sent me for a coffee, to have a break.
I am unsure if I went home for the day, or if I returned to work, it's a bit of a blur.
This was sometime prior to my becoming a nurse, which was in 1999, and I still can feel his forearms on my scull.

I was one of the lucky ones.
My only injury was psychological, but many in healthcare are injured or killed each year from the daily physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by patients and families.
"It's part of the job," we tell ourselves.
'It's embarrassing that we allowed ourselves to be victims,' we tell ourselves.

But it's not.

I want to thank Helene Andrews of Danbury Nurses Unit 47 and Donna Callicutt of the Backus Federation of Nurses, both AFT Connecticut Registered Nurses for speaking out this week in Washington on this issue.
I want to thank John Bryan of the Steelworkers, Eric Hesse of AFSME, and Brandy Welsh of National Nurses United.
I want to thank my Congressman, Joe Courtney, as well as Congressman Bobby Scott, Senator Patty Murray, and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, for pushing for a GAO report on actions needed to prevent such violence.

It can be prevented.
The study reports that facilities with a good program show a marked decrease in assaults and injuries.

The fact of the matter is that OSHA has no "standard" that requires healthcare facilities to adopt a violence prevention program, and as such, lacks enforcement authority.
This must change and it is the recommendation of the study.

There is much more work for us to do, but we must do it.
Unfortunately, healthcare facilities would rather replace us that protect us.
We must protect ourselves and each other.

GAO Report on Workplace Violence Summary

Safe Staffing CT

Sunday, April 10, 2016

State workers are not the problem, they are the solution

I saw the two young girls on the stream bank as I drove past this evening. Their red hoodies pulled up to keep them warm.  I was glad I was in my warm car, but then again I'm not a fisherman.
It reminded me that yesterday was opening day of the fishing season in Connecticut.
Fishermen and women, like hunters, are among the best advocates of our natural resources, our wildlife and our open spaces.  We who occasionally enjoy a hike or a picnic in a park or forest owe them a debt of thanks, both for the fees they pay which support these things and for their voices.
If not for them, it might be like the old Joni Mitchell song.
"they paved paradise and they put up a parking lot."

It also reminded me of the dedicated people who work for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  Raising the trout and stocking the rivers is just one of the many things they do for us and the environment every day.

When I think about the current state "budget crisis," I like to think of seeing the DEEP tanker trucks on the highways the last couple of weeks, delivering this years stock.
None of this happens without the dedicated people who do it.
The people who stock our rivers, test our milk, protect our roadways, fight fires in forests, houses, and businesses, teach our children, nurse our sick and so much more are often state workers, and our neighbors.  They gain a modest middle class income, which they reinvest in their communities, not in some offshore bank in the Cayman Islands or Panama, in an effort to avoid paying taxes.

The governor believes we need to lay off state workers.
They work and provide services and they reinvest in our communities.
Are we so cynical that we think ALL millionaires are so greedy that they will leave the state  if we ask then to help?
I don't think they are.
Yes, some are, and I say to them, don't let the door hit you in the behind on the way out.
But many will gladly pay their fair share, if only we ask.

State workers are not the problem, they are the solution.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

This is what democracy looks like

I thought I heard a rumble as we gathered around a table on the second floor of the Legislative Office Building in our last minute strategy meeting.
I looked at Lori Pelletier, President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, and she said, "Thunder snow!"
Outside the large window to my left a freak April snowstorm raged.  We had already had word of 2, maybe 3 busses cancelled due to weather.
A few minutes into the meeting Ann Pratt of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, the event organizer, looked at me and said, "we have a problem."  One of our speakers couldn't make the trip through the snow, we needed someone to speak on access to quality, affordable, public education, preferably a classroom teacher.
And at the last minute.
Jan Hochadel, AFT CT president, was already speaking on a vibrant and fully funded public sector but she had an idea, see if Paul Angelucci will do it.

When we got to the church across the street it was already 3/4 full and people were still streaming in.
When Jan spoke she mentioned marching with the Chicago Teachers Union in their one day strike last Friday. The following evening, in Las Vegas at the PSRP professional issues conference, I had chanted with a contingent of their para educators and school related personnel...
"This is what democracy looks like!"

We streamed out of the church into the snowstorm and crossed the street, back to the LOB.
As the painfully slow process at the medal detectors backed up a thousand people in the cold, wet snow, We chanted....
Whose house.....Our house!

By the time the last speaker finished, nearly a thousand people had filled the lobby and the baloneys, with several hundred more still out in the cold chanting and waiting their turn to enter.
But we had brought our message to the legislators that we demanded:
Democracy in the state and workplace
A vibrant and fully funded public sector
Full access to public education
Good jobs and fair wages
Racial, gender, and ethnic Justice
The 5 core principals of the DUE Justice Coalition
Those that could then marched to city hall, to deliver the same message to the Hartford City Council, who were deliberating whether or not to support the Mayor in an attempt to seize extraordinary powers by declaring Hartford "distressed" and asking for receivership status, which would allow him to gut public services and union contracts.
All of this, combined with a rally of hundreds of Judicial Professionals at the Connecticut Capitol last week brought me to one conclusion.
The CTU PSRP members are right....
This IS what democracy looks like!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Quality time with our PSRP members

The plane lands at 1:00 am. 
The drive home is 90 minutes. 
Maybe I'll be in bed by 2:00 am. 
Tomorrow is Monday and a big rally at the capital. 
And it is all worth it. 

Why would I say that?

I spent the last several days at the AFT PSRP PIC, or the professional issues conference for para educators and school support staff. 
Several times I was asked what I thought about and what did I learn from my first PSRP PIC. 
Since becoming state fed VP, and beginning to represent 13,000 educators, (in addition to the healthcare workers and state workers) I have slowly learned more about the education field and our education members and as I have learned, I have come to admire them more and more. 
This conference and the time spent with AFT Connecticut PSRP members, as well as PSRP members from all over the country, continued that education and admiration. 
Let me tell you one story. 
In one session, they were asked what first drew them to the profession. 
One young man, Alex, stood and nervously told his story to a room of hundreds. Members of his local stood with him for support. 
He told of working in a car wash after college and one day while cleaning a car, the owner started crying. 
He instinctively hugged her. 
She told of problems with a family member with mental illness. 
He shared a similar story from his family and the lady found relief. 
Alex said this moment was when he knew he must move on. 
Shortly after this an opportunity came as a para educator and he finds fulfillment in his work. 
The thing is, his story was wonderful, but the room was full of such people. 
They are just as dedicated as our healthcare and public service members, just as committed, just as valuable, and it is an honor and a joy to represent them and come to know them better.