Sunday, February 26, 2017

Owning our Democracy

There is a lot going on in the country and in the individual states that worry people. 
Evidence of that is seen at the "town halls" and rallies held by congressional legislators around the country this week.
I attended two such town halls this week in my congressional district.  In the first, Congressman Joe Courtney answered questions about the attacks on healthcare. (repeal of the ACA, Medicaid, Medicare) The second town hall was open to all topics and many of the expressed concerns were about protecting healthcare and public education.  There were numerous other town halls and rallies across Connecticut this week.
People wanted to know what they could do to push back, seeing how our Congressional Delegation is progressive on these issues and already "gets it."
Joe said a couple of times, we have to "own our democracy" on all levels, including town, state, and nationally.

In Connecticut, there are an unprecedented number of anti-worker, anti-middle class bills being proposed.  It's almost like those proposing them feel emboldened, like this is their moment to push this right wing agenda.  And it's happening in other states too. These movements have the financial backing of the Koch brothers and their allies.  The commonality in every one of their proposals is that they result in a shift of money from the middle class to the people at the top.

It is easy to think that the rich have all the money and power and "what can I do alone?"
This is true. One person alone can do little.
And yet, one person alone can do everything.
When one person alone decides to get involved, to "own their democracy" they encourage others to join them and together we can to anything.

This past week was a week of town halls and rallies and on Tuesday, 4,000 workers filled the legislative office building in Hartford and said to lawmakers, "I WILL own my democracy," in a pushback on multiple anti-workers bills.
We must continue.

Yesterday, nearly 200 AFT Connecticut members met at the capitol in our yearly legislative conference to discuss concerns with lawmakers and to learn from each other how to push back.

In the next 6 weeks, AFT Connecticut will hold legislative breakfasts in a different town each Saturday morning.  Information is available at
They are an opportunity to come out and speak to your area state senator and representative, an opportunity to own your democracy.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A moral obligation

We are taught in nursing school that being a Registered Nurse is both an honor and an obligation.
We were told that our biggest obligation is to be a voice of advocacy for our patients and their families.
I believe that all the disciplines of healthcare are taught the same.
It is this obligation that leads nurses and other healthcare professionals to stand in unity, organize and collectively bargain.
It is the same obligation that drives our sisters and brothers in education and public service.

Our greatest obligation is to be an advocate to those we serve.

Central to fulfilling that obligation is the ability to speak freely, without fear of retaliation.
Otherwise, how can we advocate?

Let me speak from personnel experience.
When I started as a tech at my hospital, I felt I could speak to the president of the hospital, the head of nursing, and my boss, freely about my concerns, without fear of retaliation.
They would not always agree with me, or they might agree and be unable to act due to budget concerns, but we could have an open conversation and my obligation as an advocate was fulfilled.
With the "corporatization" of healthcare, the hospital became a business, and the top priority of the hospital shifted from caring for the patient to balancing the bottom line.
Balancing the bottom line is an important responsibility of a manager.
Certainly my members would be justifiably upset if leadership did not do so at AFT Connecticut.
But balancing the bottom line and caring for the needs of our patients are not mutually exclusive.
This shift in top priorities and the unwillingness to listen to alternative ideas is in direct opposition of the obligation to advocate for those we serve.
At this point, instead of being met with a conversation, we were met with closed ears and retaliation.

It was the loss of ability to advocate and the retaliation for doing so, that led us to organize and later led to a contract and labor/management meetings where we sit across the table as equals and discuss solutions.
It has restored the ability for us to advocate and that is all we wanted.

There is a wave of legislation, both nationally and in Connecticut, that threatens this obligation to advocate.
It is cloaked in the term "right to work."
Ironically, it is a movement that purports to protect the right to free speech. 
What it really does is weaken the bond between workers who wish to stand in unity. It is that ability to stand in unity that guarantees our ability to fulfill our obligation to advocate.
As such, so called "right to work" legislation is an affront to every profession that carries the solemn obligation to advocate for those they serve.

It is morally offensive.

Current "right to work" legislation is aimed at public sector employees.
In Connecticut, this would effect our healthcare members at The UConn Health Center.
But those in the private sector should not rest easy.
If those who put financial gain before caring for patients and families in the private sector are successful, you can be sure they are coming after us.

I urge all my sisters and brothers in nursing and other healthcare professions, private or public sector, to stand together in unity.
Only in this way can we guard our obligation to advocate.

This Tuesday, a bill is being heard before the Connecticut Legislature on this subject. Please take a few minutes to listen to Jan's message. She speaks about this bill and the different ways you can get involved to protect your ability to advocate.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


The new president has banned an entire religion from entering and in some cases, reentering, our country. People who have been properly vetted and is many cases, lived here for years.
His Secretary of Education wants to take public education funds (taxes) and give them to owners of private schools.
His HHS Secretary wants to take health insurance away from 28,000 Americans, and make it impossible for the rest of us to get insurance if we have a preexisting condition, kick us off our parents plan at age 18, not cover preventative care, and re-institute lifetime maximums on coverage.
His Attorney General wants to restrict voting rights.
His EPA Secretary has spent his political career trying to dismantle the very agency he now leads.

Need I go on?

Apparently I must, because now, he wants to roll back Dodd-Frank!

Dodd-Frank is the set of regulations enacted after the financial crisis of 2008.  It was part of the "bail-out" of banks deemed too big to fail.
Banks and financial institutions had made so many risky loans, while maintaining too little reserve, and when the economy started to decline, individuals and companies could not pay back the loans.

We can debate whether the bail-out should have occurred, but the fact is it did, and should too large to fail banks fail again, it would likely be repeated.  
Dodd-Frank better regulates large banks and Wall Street financial companies to decrease the likely-hood of another meltdown.
A total meltdown would have caused a worldwide depression, much worse than the multi-year recession in which many have not fully recovered.

But now our president, who campaigned as a man of the people, who is willing to take away healthcare coverage, public education, freedom of religion, the right to vote, environmental protection and more, is willing to risk another financial meltdown and bailout because:

“We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” Mr. Trump said in the State Dining Room during his meeting with business leaders. “They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow it because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”

The reason they cannot borrow the money is because those kinds of loans led to the problem last time and frankly, the people the president said he would represent and help, are sick of bailing out the fat cats.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Plan the work, Work the plan

Three times a year, leadership from around the country of the Nurses and other Professional division of AFT meet in policy and planning meetings.
This week, Jean Morningstar, Jo Ann Chapin and I attended from Connecticut.
For two days we met in a windowless room to discuss and strategize, guided by what we have heard from our members.
While the battles and concerns in each state differ, there are many that are the same.

As we sat there last Sunday, we were but 9 days into the Trump administration, yet the world had changed.
Let me be clear.
The right of workers to stand together in unity is under attack.
Our public education system is under attack.
Our access to quality, affordable healthcare is under attack.
The defense of our environment is under attack.
Our rights to due process are under attack.
Our economic stability is under attack.

In what has been now 15 days, the new president, through executive orders and selections for cabinet positions, has reshaped our country.
Far from making America great again, in which the common citizen's voice is heard and respected, he is making America great for the wealthy, at the expense of the rest of us.

This is the new reality we are faced with and the atmosphere in which our discussions took place.
But the AFT is a union of 1.6 million members in 5 divisions.  Our task was not to tackle all our challenges, our task was to look at healthcare.

So we got to work.
Large group discussions, followed by breakouts into small groups.
Flip charts and magic markers.
The flow of ideas.
White sheets lining the walls by the time we were done.

Back in the large group we shared the ideas each individual group had developed.
Some were common to most groups, some unique.
Then discussion on these ideas.

All of this will be summarized by staff and shared with the entire group for comments.
From that will come a strategy direction for the executive board to combine with similar planning from the other divisions.

The challenges to healthcare start with the selection of Tom Price as Secretary of HHS.
As a U S Representative, he was a leading voice on repealing the ACA.
He also supports cuts and block grants to Medicaid and privatization of Medicare.
His stance on all of these issues is problematic.
Additionally, we face problems with decreased choice due to consolidation and corporatization of hospitals, price gouging on pharmaceuticals, surprise billing, and medical debt.
These issues will effect the healthcare and pocketbook of all Americans.
State, local and personal budgets will be effected.

Repeal of the ACA without a replacement will result in 28 million Americans losing health insurance, will mean parent's insurance for children up to age 26 will end, will mean those with pre-existing conditions like cancer will be unable to get coverage, will mean those with a serious illness will hit their lifetime maximum coverage and lose insurance, and will eliminate preventative care coverage which in the long run saves money.

We have a lot of work to do.
But we have 1.6 million intelligent and dedicated members and we are part of a larger movement of concerned citizens from labor and community.
But more than that....
As healthcare professionals, we have an ethical responsibility to act to protect our patients, just as educators have to protect their students and public servants to protect those they serve.
The AFT is a union of professionals who carry with them, as a result of their career choices, extra ethical responsibilities and commitment.

We will defend our values, and we will do so with a plan.