Monday, January 25, 2016

Annual UMass Martin Luther King Day Speaker: Liz Walker

Reverend Liz Walker with SHARE Treasurer Sandra Alafberg
Last Wednesday, the Reverend Liz Walker from the Roxbury Presbyterian Church spoke to our community about Martin Luther King and his example, especially how he lived a life of grace. 

SHARE Hospital Treasurer Sandra Alafberg, who works in downtown Worcester at UMass Memorial's Central Business Office, took time off from her work to hear Ms. Walker's talk, and left the event inspired and moved. 

"I loved it. Liz Walker is down-to-earth. Gracious . . . and funny. She's a humanitarian." Sandra said of the speaker. "She's from Arkansas. She learned about Dr. King when she was a girl. But she didn't come to talk about politics and movements. She talked about Martin Luther King being punched in the face by a man who was a stranger to him, and how he got up and walked away, how he showed grace. She talked about meeting Sudanese people who had absolutely nothing, and about their grace. She talked about how graciousness can change workplaces and societies." 

As a former news anchor at WBZ, Liz Walker is a familiar face to many in Massachusetts. Following in Dr. King’s tradition of service and advocacy, Liz Walker has responded to her own historical moment by co-founding the Jane Doe Safety Fund, a multi-million dollar advocacy group for survivors of domestic violence, and serving on a number of community boards and groups dedicated to causes including HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and at-risk youth. She currently divides her time between Massachusetts and the Sudan, where she does humanitarian work as the founder of "My Sister's Keeper," a group that focuses on economic and educational initiatives for Sudanese women and girls. You can learn more about Liz Walker’s work on her own website.

Tidbit Time: Week of January 25, 2016

Welcome back! These tidbits are starting to add up. Speaking of adding up . . .


“Many hands make light work” has become a fairly well-known aphorism. The phrase can be attributed to the English playwright John Heywood, who wrote during the sixteenth century. The idea can also be found in many other languages around the world. A related Tanzanian proverb says, “Two ants do not fail to pull one grasshopper.”


Here, Chade-Meng Tan explains how cooperation can change the world, in describing a project undertaken by Tibetan students in India that is doing just that.


The Blood Donor Center at UMass Memorial accepts the important gift of blood year-round, and January is a great time to resolve to give. Blood is required for a number of medical conditions, including, of course, transplants, cancers, and traumatic injuries. UMass Memorial uses about 31,000 blood products each year to meet the needs of patients. The Blood Donor Center is located on the University Campus, downstairs from the Emergency Department. Walk-ins are welcome for whole-blood donations, or to schedule an appointment, please call 508-421-1950. To find other locations to give, visit the Red Cross website 


In his book Outliers, writer Malcolm Gladwell develops the idea that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Many critics and studies have worked to debunk this theory. Author and podcaster Tim Ferriss aspires to teach readers how to be world-class performers in a fraction of that time. But how long does it take to lose a skill? HopesandDreams recently spoke with several leading experts to find out the answer.


A tidbit is, as Merrium-Webster tells us, “a choice or interesting bit (as of information),” or “a small piece of news or information.” Outside of the US and Canada, the preferred spelling is “titbit.” Obviously the word also often refers to a select little piece of food, and tells us that “the first syllable likely comes from the archaic colloquialism tid, meaning tender.

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and that things are off to a very good start for you this week. See you here next time . . .

Monday, January 18, 2016

Tidbit Time: Week of January 18th, 2016

Good morning! And happy Martin Luther King Day! In 2016, we’re making some changes to our weekly blogging experiment, formerly “Five Tidbit Friday.” We’ll continue to collect an array of news items, but we’ll be posting them, in various quantities, at the beginning of the week. This week, we’ve got a nice batch, beginning with . . .

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is," asserted Dr. Martin Luther King, "'What are you doing for others?'" On this MLK Day holiday, we remember Dr. King, and renew our thinking on this persistent and urgent question.

All members of the UMass community have been invited to this year's tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, where Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church and the first black woman to co-anchor a newscast in Boston, will be delivering the keynote address on the subject of service.  RSVP or email to register for the event, taking place on Wednesday, Jan. 20, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Faculty Conference Room on the University campus, with lunch available at 11:30 a.m.


Near the end of last year, and “across the pond,” as they say, hospital workers and community members responded with real inspiration to a political decision that would have shut down Lewisham and Greenwich Hospital in southeast London. Members of the National Health Service choir there recorded and released "A Bridge over You," a mashup of "Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel, and Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The song became the centerpiece of a campaign to save the hospital.

As a result, the English came out in support of their healthcare workers. “A Bridge over You” reached number one on the UK singles chart at Christmas 2015, selling more than 127,000 copies. (Justin Bieber, whose song “Love Yourself” was expected to be number one on the charts during the spike in record sales at Christmas, even tweeted his support for the cause.)  

The song, the singers, and the video of these caregivers with their patients is quite an inspiration. Give it a listen?


The civil rights leader we celebrate today was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son. And did you know that the young Martin Luther Jr. entered college at age fifteen?


There’s more interesting work-related news from the UK this week.  Buzzfeed recently reported that, “The Daily Telegraph has installed devices to monitor whether journalists are at their desks.” These small boxes were mounted beneath the employees’ desks, and detected heat and motion. A follow-up in the Huffington Post stated that outcry about the devices led the company to remove them the same day they were installed. That article, entitled “Why Bosses Should Snoop on Employees Less,”  goes on to explain:

. . . increasing surveillance to boost productivity is much different from increasing surveillance to prevent theft, and it's unclear if it does much beyond stressing employees out. Workplace stress can cost companies a few thousand dollars per worker every year through a combination in absenteeism and disability claims, multiple studies have found -- and that doesn't even cover any declines in productivity. And it's pretty clear employees find surveillance stressful.

Although SHARE has never come across warmth-detectors, UMass Memorial does use some technology to keep track of productivity. We are keeping an eye on this trend. Let us know if something new comes up in your area.
And while we’re on the subject, we encourage SHARE members to be cautious. Here in the US, an employer is entitled to monitor any communication activity on a company-owned system. And they can legally discipline you for anything you send that is illegal or out-of-line with their policies.


In the most recent SHARE Hospital contract negotiations, we implemented new language, designed to allow laid-off SHARE members to retain their pay rate if they cannot find another SHARE job that pays as well, if they must instead take a job in a lower pay grade. Although the language hasn’t worked as an automatic fix, it has helped SHARE members retain their standard of living. According to Politico, it appears that President Obama has been developing a similar idea, “In Tuesday's State of the Union address President Barack Obama offered a policy fix for workers who lose their jobs and end up in worse-paying ones: wage insurance. If an American worker takes a job that pays less than the one that vanished, ‘there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills,’ the president said.”

To those of you who have the holiday off this year, have a wonderful and meaningful day. To those of you who will be clocked-in, thank you for the work you will be doing on this day in service of the missions of our hospital and university. Hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and that things are off to a very good start for you this week. See you here next time . . .

Friday, January 15, 2016

Take the Employee Engagement Survey by January 25th!

As many of you already know, UMass Memorial is rolling out another wave of Employee Engagement surveys to over 3,800 staff, including many SHARE members. If you are in an area that is being surveyed, SHARE encourages your participation. It shouldn't take much more than five minutes, you can do it on work time, and we are hopeful that the results will direct attention at improving what it feels like to come to work here every day.

Last year, a smaller number of departments were administered a similar survey; these departments will be re-surveyed to check on their progress.  In addition, several dozen other departments are being asked to participate.

Like the other Employee Engagement surveys administered since 2014, these will be handled by an outside agency called Avatar Solutions. The surveys will not be seen by anyone at UMass Memorial. Prior to this new approach, SHARE members sometimes encountered problems with how their information was handled--sometimes the results were reported in such a way that managers and supervisors could figure out respondents' identities. It appears that the measures involved now are working; SHARE has heard no complaints about confidentiality. Avatar Solutions will give UMass Memorial results for groups only, not individuals. Small groups will be combined to help protect anonymity. You have to enter your employee ID number to take the survey -- that's to make sure only employees take the survey, that each person only takes it once, and that your responses are grouped with your team’s responses.

If you are in a department taking part in the survey, you can expect that results will be shared with you in March, that measures will be put in place over the Spring and Summer with the goal of improving what it feels like to work here, and that your department will then be re-surveyed in October to measure whether improvements made between surveys have worked. SHARE leadership will also study these results to better understand ways that our union can improve our members' experience at work.

If you have any thoughts or questions about this survey, or SHARE's participation with it, email

The Flu Vaccine and Hospital Employees

You are probably hearing it in your department: UMass Memorial is urging employees to get their flu shot. Or, to fill out the form that says you’re not going to get the vaccine.

We’ve heard that the lines were long at the flu shot clinics this year, maybe because there weren’t as many as some years. The flu clinics are all done now, so you if want to get a flu shot, you have to go to your doctor, or to someplace like Walgreens or CVS.

Whether you get the shot or decline, you are supposed to turn in a form to Employee Health:
When flu season does hit here, patient care departments will require unvaccinated employees to wear a mask. Although there have been warnings of discipline surrounding the issue, SHARE has recommended that Human Resources handle individualized problems on a case-by-case basis. SHARE will work with hospital management to problem-solve these issues. To the best of our knowledge, this approach as generally worked out to everyone’s satisfaction in past flu seasons.

Some hospitals moving to require flu shots of all employees

Although some nearby hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital, have worked to require the vaccine for eligible employees, it is not mandatory at UMass Memorial (though filling out one of the forms is required).

Johns Hopkins Medicine, a Maryland-based healthcare network requiring employee-vaccination, reports that “Each year, approximately 226,000 are hospitalized and 36,000 people die due to the flu.” On the University campus, researchers at UMass Medical School are studying ways to predict the evolution of the influenza virus to further develop prevention measures.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires all hospitals to report the vaccination rates among their employees. Additionally, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has established a minimum overall goal that 90% of healthcare workers be immunized.

Medicare makes public the vaccination rates of all hospitals in the US. The website currently reports that 83% of UMass Memorial employees have been vaccinated, slightly lower than the national average (84%) and state average (88%).

The Centers for Disease Control recommends vaccination for most individuals over six months of age, especially those who work in healthcare. This short video featuring UMass Memorial physician Dr. Fozia Qamar addresses some of the most common questions about the vaccine.

Friday, January 8, 2016


7796 -- that's how many comments SHARE members wrote on the Contract Negotiations survey. The SHARE organizers are reading them all now, preparing the data for the SHARE Negotiating Team.

The data can answer many questions: We can look closely at each topic, like "What does all of SHARE think about career development?" and at different groups, like "What do clerical and administrative SHARE members think and how are they different or the same as what the techs or SHARE members in nursing jobs think?"

It's fabulous that so many SHARE members put so much thought into their survey responses. Analyzing that huge amount data is a huge task, and a very good problem to have. Thank you for all of your thoughtful responses.