I didn’t want to be a nurse. My mom encouraged me to try it out. So I became an LVN first, to see if I liked it. I did a clinical rotation here at Pettis. Taking care of the veterans, I realized this is what I want to do. I can make a difference. I’ve gained a lot of life experience. I’m able to give back to those who fought for us. The best I can do is to help them back to health, support them and their family while they heal.
My mom told me to join the union right away. She’s a nurse too, and a UNAC/UHCP member: Victoria Lanorias, at Kaiser Fontana. At first I admit I was a disbeliever. But Mary Mendoza, our President, believes so much in the Union that I wanted to help. I found I had a knack for reading policies. Mary wanted me to try it out and I loved it. Now people say I should be a paralegal. But that’s how I win cases. I back up all my arguments with facts. I like to tell my coworkers, “You don’t have to stand for this. Look at what our contract says.” I wanted to do that for my coworkers. Happy workers mean happy patients.
Because Pettis is military, it’s under federal law. They don’t have to follow California’s staffing ratios. That’s where our struggle is. Instead we have a staffing methodology, set by an expert panel. It goes by acuity, and it’s supposed to be more accurate, but in practice I don’t think it’s better. We’ve been understaffed for years, and we can’t get equipment to take care of our patients. So staffing is something we want to negotiate next year. It’s going to be a challenge. But before Mary came in as President we had 70 members. In two years we’re up to 300. And we’ve become well versed in VA regulations. Now we have to write our knowledge into our contract.
As Associate Rep Coordinator I’ve been functioning as a steward, because for years we didn’t have any. We’re trying to create a new culture, to show the nurses they are the union. I’ve been rounding to get to know everyone and pull some stewards together. I take a lot of inspiration from a Benjamin Disraeli quote, ‘The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.’ I believe to strengthen our union we have to show others what they are capable of, guide them and provide them the support they need to find their own empowerment.