Notes from the Road: Connecting With Each Other and Changing Hearts

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SEA President Rich Gulla poses for a photo with Michelle Drouin, a part-time employee at the Franklin State Liquor Store.

Connecting With Each Other and Changing Hearts

People frequently ask me why I enjoy spending time in the field meeting our bargaining unit members. There are a number of reasons; beginning with my desire to want to hear the joys and concerns of our membership, to doing everything I can to demystify the inner workings of our union.

And then Michelle Drouin happens. Michelle is a part-time employee at the liquor store in Franklin.  As many of you already know, the SEA has been engaged in a three-year struggle to get the State to honor its contractual obligation to part-time workers, like Michelle at the Liquor Commission. Shortly after winning an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the State, the SEA went on the road this past spring to inform the employees at the Liquor Commission that we had won. It meant that part-time workers were part of our union and had the rights guaranteed to them in the contract, including some wage enhancements. This will mean thousands of dollars each year for some of the lowest paid workers in the State system.

At the same time, we also educated our members (and non-members) about new health insurance opportunities for which our organization has fought for years. These new Affordable Care Act options, including Expanded Medicaid, meant that tens of thousands of our neighbors in NH would have access to quality health insurance, many for the first time ever. Not only did we share this information, but we also provided assistance to hundreds of people who were trying to sign up.

So what does this have to do with Michelle? She was working one day this past spring when SEA staff and members came to the store with the information on benefits and health insurance. At the time, Michelle listened and politely told the team that she needed time to process the information.

Fast forward to last week, four months after that initial visit with Michelle. I asked the SEA/SEIU 1984 field staff to arrange work site visits for me and we just happened to stop at the Franklin store when Michelle was working. “The last time we spoke, you told us that you had health insurance issues,” the field representative said to Michelle, “Have you found any solutions?” Michelle’s response was something that I will remember for a very long time. With an ear-to-ear smile, Michelle told us that the information we gave her was directly responsible for her getting affordable health insurance. “I went to the doctor for the first time in seven years,” she exclaimed, “and I no longer have to worry about ‘What if?’”

We were all moved by the story and continued our discussion about the importance of the work that our union is doing.  Michelle asked us for a membership card – she wanted to be a part of what we were doing; what we stand for.  Michelle Drouin is now a proud SEA member.

The membership card is symbolic of the real value in this exchange. Our discussion raised the level of our understanding of the issues we face as working men and women. I left my visit with Michelle inspired by what these meaningful conversations can produce, and convinced of our need to have more of them.

We move our issues by connecting with each other and changing hearts. There is no other way to do this than by talking and listening to each other and bringing that dialogue to the public.

Please join me in the discussion.

Contact me any time at 271-3411 x104 or rgulla@seiu1984.org.

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