Vermont health professionals honored at Human Rights Luncheon

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"THE PROOF that one truly believes is in action." This well-known quote from civil and labor rights activist Bayard Rustin serves as inspiration for members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. Fittingly, the AFT Healthcare local was honored for its beliefs and actions with the Bayard Rustin Human Rights Award at the union’s Human Rights Luncheon Saturday.

VFNHP leaders and AFT Vice President OwleyFrom left, Ann Twomey, Candice Owley, Mari Cordes and Jennifer Henry celebrate winning the Bayard Rustin Award.

After seeing the destruction and death caused by the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, members of the VFNHP were determined to help. In the days following the quake, many members and their colleagues volunteered to be part of the medical relief effort in Haiti. The nurses, doctors, paramedics, and physical and occupational therapists exhausted their vacation and personal leave to rotate in and out of the country for nearly a year.

"Bayard was a lifelong champion for economic and social justice here and beyond our shores," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "The award goes to those who personify his ideals and commitment. So, when we thought about who to honor this year, we looked to the work of the VFNHP."

"This tragedy reminded us that natural disasters—wherever they occur—have the power to touch us all," said Weingarten, who presented the award to Mari Cordes, the local’s current president, and former president Jennifer Henry.

The VFNHP made a long-term commitment to the people of Haiti by establishing a union-run health clinic for women and children in Port-au-Prince. The members worked closely with the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers (a Haitian trade union also known as the CTSP), and Public Services International and its affiliate in Haiti to get the clinic off the ground. Funds from the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, the New York State United Teachers and the AFT, as well as individual donations helped to finance the clinic, aptly named the Workers’ Solidarity Clinic. The facility opened its doors in August 2011.

The humanitarian work of VFNHP members not only has changed lives of people in Haiti, it also has changed the lives of the nurses and health professionals who have volunteered, said Cordes. "We found unending inspiration in Haiti, and we are deeply humbled to accept this award."

"It's our duty to help our members believe in the power of action," added Henry. [Adrienne Coles/Photo: Russ Curtis]