Bargaining team

Well it has just been a great couple of days in the hospital.  Management is nowhere to be seen.  All of their lit has been trashed.  Some of the anti union nurses are shooting dirty looks but mostly people seem really united and ready to take on the responsibilities to come.  When UnionGuy called me two days later I thought, ‘Hey, aren’t you supposed to be on a beach somewhere?’ He says, “You know we aren’t done yet right?” He wants me to join the bargaining team and help them bargain a contract.  He says, “I could lie, and tell you it would just be this one last thing, but the truth is a union takes work if you want those votes to be worth anything.”

I have all this life unfolding right in front of me and I think I can do it all.  I guess I had a day off…  It’s time to get to work again.  Who wants to tell Ms. DudeRN?

Election Day results, back to being “that dude RN”

I woke up and my stomach was in knots.  I was better off than Ms. DudeRN, who was in the bathroom with morning sickness.  I took the day off so I could be there for the count.  We had to decide who was going to work and who was going to take off.  Both are important roles. If you go in to work, then you can help make sure everyone goes and votes and report out to the organizers, who is at work and who is missing.  If you take the day off, then you have a choice of jobs.  You can make phone calls to turn people out to vote, you can go to nurse’s homes to remind them to vote or, if you are really lucky, you can stand in the parking lot for hours.  Ms. DudeRN also took the day off. So before I went off for that last day of union-making, we had a nice breakfast and coffee.  It was hard to sit still and enjoy breakfast but I think it really helped the rest of the day to have a moment of breathing.  So much of the rest of the day would involve the holding of breath it is probably this very moment that allowed me to maintain consciousness.

It also gave me a chance to reflect on what a wonderful wife I have.  She has supported me through all of this, even when she was nervous about our future, even when I was nervous about our future.  She helped me figure out how to express myself and how to keep my cool.  If I deserve any credit for this crazy thing, then it is all for her. She made it possible.

I started out in the parking lot.  I didn’t think it was a good assignment but you get see the people as they come in and you have the chance to get the last word.  If someone has come in to vote with questions on their mind, you can see it on their face and get them talking.  If they start talking, you have a good chance to answer their questions right before they go in to vote.  UnionGuy says that if a person goes into the booth undecided there is a much higher likelihood they will vote no.  He says they started counting the Undecideds as No votes a week ago.

As the day ran on, UnionLady showed up and dropped off a relief nurse and I went out to knock on some doors.

These were different kinds of visits, all to people we knew were Yes votes.  We were showing up to offer to watch their kids while they go vote, I even offered to help one nurse finish vacuuming!  Mostly it was about making sure they understand how important it is to go vote. UnionLady says, “These things are decided by ONE vote ALL.THE.TIME!”

As the sun is setting, we get back to the parking lot where a crowd has formed.  Everyone is nervous but there is a real sense we are in it together.  I feel like, no matter what, we are a union now.  The election is being held in one of the hospital’s conference rooms and being run by government agents who look very official and are kind of stern.  When it’s time, we all march in together and find a seat.  The agent tells us that almost 95% of the nurses voted!  They empty all of the ballots onto the table and slowly, slowly they begin unfolding them and setting them into piles.

They count out and hold up each and every ballot, “Yes, Yes, No, No, No, Yes….”  It seems like forever and the runs of Yes votes make my heart flutter and the runs of No votes make my stomach turn over.

I have lost all track of time and numbers, but I can see people at the front have started smiling.  The Government agent stops counting.The organizers are looking at us giving us the all clear sign, when they call out the tallies and announce the Yes votes have it! A giant cheer goes up!

The board agent throws us out of the room and we march back out to the parking lot.  The press is there and there are camera flashes and people giving statements.  I call Ms. DudeRN and say, “We did it!”

After the crowd has cleared a bit, we move farther into the parking lot and some nurse reaches into her trunk and breaks out a bottle of champagne!  People are so happy.  I just can’t believe it.  It’s over, we won.  Things will never be the same.  We go out for a drink, but all I can think of is my bed.  I’m so glad it is over.  Now I can go back to just being that dude RN…

It’s About Time.

Tomorrow is election day.  I’m staring at the ceiling knowing that one way or another at this time tomorrow, we will know.  This time tomorrow, things will be different.  I know our unit has remained strong.  Management has been having round the clock meetings at the hospital with the new VP of nursing, practically begging for another chance and painting all of us supporters as a bunch of malcontents.  They have put out over 60 distinct pieces of anti union literature in the last thirty-five days.  We have a wall at the union office wallpapered with them and it is covered floor to ceiling.  We call it the wall of shame.  I have been out talking with people every day.  UnionGuy looks like he hasn’t slept in days but he keeps this positive attitude that keeps us all going.

I think we did it.  I think it was enough, but how do you know?

Tomorrow the nurses will go in one by one and vote.  They will count the ballots and then we will know.  The nurses will decide.  At least I know this: in our hospital it has been a long time since a decision was left up to us nurses.  It’s About Time.

I would have preferred a car accident

We are really close to election day here at the hospital.  Things seem electric.  About a week ago, we handed out these buttons that say “Proud to be a Nurse”. It seems like everyone is wearing one.  I wanted to choose a more aggressive slogan like “Patients before Profits” but we agreed that more people would wear one if it had a more positive message.

We also started handing out and collecting back a bargaining survey.  It’s a little booklet of questions about what your priorities are for a contract.  I like it.  At first I thought it was a little presumptuous, but I like that it helps people remember that we aren’t doing this out of anger. We’re doing this because we want to see real changes and that we will have real changes put into a contract. Having a contract means management can’t just change things whenever they want without our input.  I have been reading them as they come in and although everyone wants some part of the money restored, most of the comments are about figuring out ways to make sure there is better patient safety.  It’s nice; it reminds you that we are here for a reason.  Wearing the button and advocating for our patients reminds me this isn’t just a job.  I’m here to take care of that woman in 430 recovering from a tibial plateau fracture; I’m here to make sure she gets to walk again; I’m here to make sure she gets home to her kids.

I was putting things away in the dirty utility room at the end of my shift when I heard the door open. I didn’t really look up.  It was two clinical coordinators.  They don’t usually travel in pairs.  They stood in the doorway.  “Sam, we need to talk.”  They said this union thing has gone far enough.  They said I should really reconsider my role in all of this.  I haven’t really told many people about my news on the home front but this is a hospital so everyone knows everyone else’s business.  Still, when she said, “Sam, you need to think about your future and about your growing family. Do you really want to be looking for work in this economy with a new baby?” I almost lost it.  I couldn’t see straight.  I said, “I am thinking of my future.” They said they just cared about me and didn’t want to see me get hurt for someone else’s actions.  I said, “Thanks, I guess…” and they left.   I stayed in there for a few minutes and pulled myself together.  I wanted to throw something. I wanted to quit right then and there.  I gave report and clocked out.  On the way to the car, I remembered UnionGuy had told us this might happen.  He said that when the threats come, they feel horrible.  He was right.  He said that when it happens you will feel like you have been in a car accident.  You sort of enter this state of shock and if you don’t do anything about it, the most likely result is you will run and hide.  He said the problem with running and hiding is that once you start you never feel safe, because really they will never leave you alone.  He said the only good solution is to call somebody.  I called him, and we talked it through.  When we got through all the details of it he said, “Really all that happened is that you had an unfortunate interaction with an asshole, and isn’t that half the job of being a nurse?”

It really helped to talk it through.  I didn’t think they would be like that, but now I know.  I know this is the right thing to do.  I don’t want any nurse at my hospital to go through this.  They can’t stop us, certainly not with threats and intimidation.  It was intense, but it didn’t work.  Now more than ever I will do whatever it takes to make this happen.  We need a union in this place.

Better not mess with me, I know important people

That was a kind of unusual meeting.  There were more people there than usual.  UnionGuy said they had a surprise guest coming.  A state trooper came in and walked around the building and then in walks the Governor.

Whoa.  He shakes everyone’s hand and sits down with us. Then hejust starts talking and asking questions and listening.  Also he was funny.  He says, “Well you look like a bunch of troublemakers!”

He talks about how his mother was a nurse and that he understands our commitment to our patients.While he cautions that he doesn’t quite take sides, he tells us to go forward and be brave and that this is our guaranteed right to join together if we so choose and the hospital should remain neutral.

We take a big group photo and just like that he is gone.  UnionGuy is grinning ear to ear but he says, “Okay, let’s get back to work” and we proceed on with the meeting as usual.

This union thing is a trip.

Luckily we keep smelling salts in the medicine cabinet

There are these rotten weeks when Ms. DudeRN and my schedules seem to conspire against us.  It doesn’t help that I am working two jobs, the second one is organizing a union at my hospital.  I have at least one meeting a week and at least two days a week with UnionLady driving around talking to people.

During these rotten weeks, Ms. DudeRN has to work late on the nights I’m off and has to work early the days following the nights I’m on.  She’s asleep when I get home and while she makes the bed nice and warm and the sound of her sleepy breathing makes falling to sleep after a long shift particularly satisfying, it is the mornings when she is already gone when I realize I will not see her smile for at least another day.  That’s when all that sleep seems like a waste.

Two weeks have gone by since we have shared a meal together; it has been two weeks since we have been able to talk face to face.  When I came home last night I smelled terrible.  Worse than usual.  I saw the bedroom light was on but just figured she had fallen asleep reading so I jumped in the shower before going in there.  She was waiting up.  My heart started racing.  I know these weeks have been bad and I have been doing all this union stuff, but I thought she understood and was ok.  I should have checked before I got in the shower.

She wasn’t fuming though.  Something was up but her anxiousness was impossible to read.

It turns out we are having a baby.

It’s too soon to tell anyone so keep it quiet, but she had been waiting for our schedules to break so she could tell me face to face but she just couldn’t wait any longer.  I’m stunned.  It’s not a bad thing, no way.  It’s just a surprise.  We are usually pretty careful.  She was worried I’d be unhappy because of all of the things going on at work and the truth is I feel like it does change the equation in some way.  I’m just not sure which way.

Also, I’m really glad I showered first.

There is only so far

I’ve noticed on bad days I am not a courteous driver on the way home.  When I get home I have usually burned off that edge so thankfully Ms. DudeRN doesn’t have to deal with my crap. But if I have to stop at the grocery store on my way home you better not let that cart ding my sweet ford focus or you will get some serious ugly look and maybe even some crazy muttering.

Last time they assembled us for their BS meeting it was the start of the shift, we didn’t know what was coming. We were sheep.  This time it was different.

Things were not going well on the floor.  We were a full house with admission after admission and nobody going home.  Only a few walkie-talkie patients and the rest were heavy fall risks.  It was just the wrong time to mess with us.   We don’t often see the VP of Nursing.  She spends her time in boardrooms and offices but she still makes sure everyone knows she keeps her RN current.  Sometimes she does a walk through and just stands around watching and listening.  She will walk up on your conversation with a doctor or another nurse or a family member and just stand there creepily.  It’s pretty annoying.

We talked about what to do when you see someone being  “talked to” by management at our last organizing committee meeting.  The plan is if you see someone getting “talked to” you go stand next to them.  You don’t need to join in or make it confrontational just stand there next to her and be a witness and a support.  It didn’t really work out that way.

I guess they were thinking they were going to pull us off the floor for another meeting and that it would be good to start with Gina.  Gina has been supportive of our union, she still wears the MLK button, but she hasn’t been really public about it.  She was standing there in the hallway toe to toe with the VP of Nursing and Lookout looks at me and without words we go stand next to Gina.  All of the sudden there are five nurses standing shoulder to shoulder.  Gina is holding her own asking sharp questions about equipment and the shift differential.  VP lady tries to go for the ”but we’re a team” and I don’t know what happened because suddenly I’m talking.  “If we are a team then put on some scrubs and get to work here cause we have patients to take care of and we don’t have time for your anti union bullying”.  Others chime in and VP lady bites her lip, says “well… I see” and turns on her heel and storms out.

You would think we would have had some cheering and high fives all around but we break up and get to work without much said.  The rest of the shift is kind of a blur of patient care.  I don’t think she will be back on our floor anytime soon.

Excuse me, we’re here to see the CEO

I am now going to the OC meetings regularly.  It feels good to go and be a part of the action.  There is a regularity to it that makes this crazy thing seem almost normal.  There are about 20 of us.  We get in, get settled, wait for the stragglers to show up.  Andrea is always late.  Then we go over what has happened this week, where we are and then the plan for the next week.  With the meetings and the paper from management, I knew this was going to be an interesting meeting.

It seems like the meetings did not have the desired effect for management.  In the ED they refused to sign the clipboard.  One of the nurses down there actually stood up in the meeting and said, “I’m going to take your advice; I’m not signing that paper!”

In the OR half the unit decided after the meeting to sign union cards!  UnionGuy said with the visits they did this week and the mass signing after the meeting we are over the majority!  We added in the cards from yesterday and today and we are at 65%!  UnionGuy says that is the magic number.  We are ready to demand recognition and file for an election!!!  Everyone started clapping!  UnionGuy says that when we get to this point we announce to the boss and the public that we are the clear majority and ask for the hospital to just recognize the union and start negotiating.  UnionGuy says it never actually happens but they always ask.

We start hatching a plan.  UnionGuy whips up a letter offering to have the cards counted by a local official and then demanding the CEO recognize our union and sit down with us to negotiate.  We all sign it and then talk about who is working tomorrow.  We make a plan to get a couple of more signatures tonight and then at 2pm most of us can either be there or take a break and meet out front to walk the letter into the CEO’s office.  I’m working so I offer to come in early.

The next day I show up out front and there are 15 of us gathered around under the portico.  There is a reporter from the local paper there and UnionGuy too.  One nurse is giving an interview to the reporter and he is filming it on his iPhone.  UnionGuy has had the letter dressed up and it seems like he has a million copies.  Everyone is feeling good although it may just be nerves.

I don’t know who started us off but all of the sudden we are marching through the lobby and up the steps to the administrative side of the building.  We are a motley crew of nurses in scrubs with booties and some with jackets to keep their scrubs sterile and some in street clothes.  You should have seen the look on the executive secretaries face when we all tromped in.  We couldn’t all fit. I was in the doorway and there were still some of us in the hallway.

The nurses in front tried to get us in with the CEO but he was out of the office and they said he would not be back for the day.  We left a message asking to sit down with him as a group and tried to leave the letter with his secretary but she wouldn’t take it.  It was amazing to see her recoil from the paper as if touching it would do something!  Eventually one nurse in the front propped it up on a chair in the waiting area.  We walked out and back to the front in time for one quick round of high-fives before I had to go to work.  UnionGuy said he would bring the cards up to the Labor Board with some of the other nurses to file for an election.

Even my clinical coordinators nasty attitude couldn’t bring down the mood.  It was one of the best shifts ever.

Ana Says “Gamble with this!”

It seems like the hospital higher ups took their sweet time figuring out how to respond to our project.  For a little it seemed like maybe they would just let it run its course without getting too involved.  UnionGuy said they were probably just holding back till they could get managers trained up.  He was pretty happy about it though, he said their delay could give us the room to make enough headway that they wouldn’t be able to stop us.

Over the weekend all of the department managers were called in to a hospital training session.  Lookout’s friend in management told her they all had to report to the Holiday Inn and they were told to park across the street and walk in separately.  (really?) Her friend told her that they were there on overtime for the whole day and that they were broken out into small groups and then even given individual assignments.  I guess it’s about to get real.

Today we had our regular start of shift cluster and the clinical coordinators had a clipboard and a little stack of paper.  After a shortened report she said that she had some business to talk about that was “crucial to the future of our hospital.”  She had some paper that we were each to read and then we had to sign off that we had received it, read it and understood it.  This has never happened before; I figured it must be something really important.  Here we are sitting together, day shift is all still clocked in and racking in the OT while she solemnly hands out the papers and waits for us to read it.  I’m thinking someone in the hospital has Bird Flu or something.  Turns out it’s just some ridiculous anti union paper.  There’s this picture of playing cards and it says “Think twice before you gamble with your signature.”  Are you kidding me!  I think we all were in shock it was happening.  The hospital that won’t spend the extra twenty cents to get the tape that doesn’t rip skin off is willing to let the meter run on 18 nurses for this BS.  Before passing around the clipboard our clinical coordinator icily says, “Any questions?”  No one even breathes loudly.  I must have been giving her some serious stink eye because she catches my glare and says “Sam, any questions?”  I just sat there stunned. The clipboard gets passed around and I scribble my signature on it.  She walks out when we all have signed without another word.  Ana is the first to break the moment by crumpling up the paper and throwing it across the room into the trash can.

We go to work and day shift goes home.  All shift I am fielding questions:

Can they really take dues out of our next paycheck?

Do I have to resubmit vacation for this summer if I signed a card?

Signing a card doesn’t really affect our credit score, right?

No one asks for their card back like the paper suggested and for each person who comes up and asks me a question I remind them what we talked about when we signed cards.  I remind them that we knew management was not going to sit back and let us make this choice without interfering.   I talk about the reasons we are doing this in the first place and everyone is right back on it.  After a pretty normal/super busy shift we hand off to the night nurses and I make sure to prep them for what is coming in the morning.

Not only did we survive, I think most people were annoyed by the intrusion.  I called UnionGuy from the parking lot to give him the scoop and he said they had run the same meeting on every single floor.  He said we are really close to moving to the next step and that when we do, it will probably get worse.  I tell him it was pretty bad, I think that was their big hammer.  He says, “We’ll see.”  Not exactly the reassurance I was looking for.

On a side note, we discovered Ana can get a crumpled piece of anti union literature into the trash can from anywhere on the floor.  Seriously, it was like those old Michael Jordan / Larry Bird commercials.


Managing anxiety is often as important as anything else…

As my work with this union thing has increased Ms. DudeRN’s anxiety has correspondingly increased.  As Little Sister’s pregnancy status has been further celebrated and shower plans have ensued, DudeRN and Ms. DudeRN have engaged in life planning conversations that have often ended unhappily talking about the risks associated with this union stuff.

I have always appreciate Ms. DudeRN’s anxiety.  It has been invaluable at keeping our budget in the black.  It was a principle factor in my graduating from nursing school and it is an endearing quality which has provided hours of entertainment on winding mountain roads and flights on small planes.

I never just dismiss this anxiety (except in thunder storms).  I heed the advice and I keep a sharp eye for danger.  The hard part is I have never done this before and I don’t know how to tell if something is or isn’t dangerous.   UnionGuy has a similar anxiety level.  He asks a million questions, he checks his rear view mirror and the parking lot of the union office for suspicious looking vehicles and he even seems kinda superstitious.  While I appreciate his carefulness with MY job, it does make it hard to asses real risks.

For now I’m going to keep working.  Things are so bad here I can’t imagine working here without this change.  If I don’t do everything I can to make it happen I could be looking for a new job anyways.  We have made a lot of progress in the last few weeks.  I assured Ms. DudeRN this will all be over soon, one way or another.