What is it like to work at a nursing home? “The job is challenging. Every day is different,” says Robert Davis, a registered nurse who works with residents who have memory deficit conditions. “I have to be in tune with the residents. I have to be an advocate for the residents. I have to anticipate their needs.”
Davis, a member of Colorado WINS, is one of nearly 250 state employees—from the front office to the resident floors—whose professionalism and hard work make the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora an exemplary facility. The nursing home serves veterans, their spouses and Gold Star parents who have lost a child in military service.
AFT president Randi Weingarten toured the nursing home in early January to discuss unionism and workplace issues with Colorado WINS members who are gearing up to negotiate their first partnership agreement with the state.
Weingarten sat down with about 30 employees during an afternoon shift change. Several told her that the residents are “the best thing” about working at the facility. The employees are looking to the union to improve labor-management communications and to foster a fairer, more respectful work environment.
“You can find patronage, cronyism and toxicity in any workplace,” Weingarten noted, adding that a respectful environment is the key to better working relationships. “You can’t get to trust until you have respect.”
Weingarten suggested using the recently formed labor-management committee first to “solve little things,” which will show management that problems can be resolved through collaboration; then the committee can tackle bigger issues.
The strongest unions, Weingarten said, are the ones whose members are willing to take risks—to speak out in an effort to improve the workplace and the services provided. “A union is about creating the ability to take a risk and not get hurt by it.”