Pat Diaz makes no bones about the fact that she wants to know what’s going on with everybody. The quality that makes her a good nurse is the same one that makes her a strong delegate.
“I have always been a person that asks why. I never take anything at face value,” she says. “And being involved in the Union has really given me an opportunity to do that.”
Diaz has been an RN in orthopedics at University Hospital in Tamarac, FL for 15 years. She helped organize the institution in 2007. Her mother’s bad experience with a union in New Jersey, where she’s from, left Diaz initially skeptical about labor unions’ ability to protect workers.
“I went to the [organizing] meetings out of curiosity. I always felt that nurses and management wanted the same thing—the best for our patients,” she says. “But then when I started going to the Union meetings I realized it was all about [management’s] power.”
As an organizing committee member at University she saw firsthand the importance of unions to Registered Nurses. Today she’s a leader among the Union’s Florida Region delegates, a member of SEIU’s Nurse Alliance and active in Florida’s political action program.
“Year after year, nurses are shown to be one of the most trusted and respected professions, yet management tries to make us think anytime we go against them we are abandoning our patients,” she says.
“That gives nurses even more reason to fight for our working conditions to be better. It’s like the oxygen mask on an airplane: how can we take care of others if we’re not taking care of ourselves?”
You Always Have To Ask Questions
Diaz never planned to become a delegate, but wasn’t surprised when she fell into the role.
“It drove me crazy to see my coworkers being taken advantage of.
I’m like a momma bear. I’m naturally protective,” she says. “Plus I’m so nosey. I have to know what’s going on with everyone and everywhere, so it was just made sense.”
Her baptism by delegate fire came when she was asked at the last minute to represent a member at a grievance meeting—something she’d never done before.
“All I knew was [the member] was in trouble and she needed a delegate. She was about to be terminated. I had no idea what it would be like, but I’m that little kid who jumps into the water even though they have no idea how to swim. They just know they love the water,” she says. And just like they teach in swim class—Diaz didn’t panic. She made a phone call.
“I reached out to the person who helped us organize. She told me to ask questions if I didn’t understand something, that decisions didn’t have to be made then and there and to make sure I got all the information; she also told me we could take a break if we needed one,” says Diaz.
“Management was amazed. I was writing everything down. I probably looked calmer than I really was.”
“Knowing Your Contract is of the Utmost Importance” “I still pass that along today, because members think I know everything,” says Diaz “You always have to ask questions. In the end that member didn’t get terminated.”
The other cornerstone of her job is the contract. Collective bargaining agreements protect workers and provide security for new workers to grow in their jobs.
“When we have something in the contract I go back and read it. I may have been there when we passed an article, but I have to go back and look at it. Knowing your contract is of the utmost importance. Management will say they know it, but you can’t take anything for granted,” she warns.
“When we hire new nurses, it’s with the promise that we are going to help them become better nurses. I tell nurse leaders, ‘I rely on your expertise’,” she says. “[We want young nurses to know that] when things get bad they are going to get better.”
Diaz believes every delegate carries on the tradition of speaking truth to power.
“I look at our delegates like a Civil Rights Movement. A few people have to step up or we will all be afraid. Someone has to say, ‘No. That doesn’t work for us.’” she says matter of factly. “I also do this because I want to make sure that we have good jobs and fair workplaces for my grandchildren.”