by: E. Farmer
I moved out of my parent’s house in November of last year and with that, I needed a second job. I turned to Craigslist, applied for a few, and ended up getting hired at Barely Basic Assisted Living in Green Valley. I have worked there for over 9 months now and have witnessed so many injustices. Eventually, I got sick and tired of the way things were and turned to the IWW to organize. I’m not sure if I will actually be able to organize workers for better conditions; yet I am trying my best to “leave my workplace better than I found it” as the IWW saying goes. After some examination of the general sentiment of folks that I work with, one can conclude that we are “underpaid, overworked, and understaffed.” One time I was having a ‘one-on-one’ (1-1) with a coworker and we said that previous statement in sync. There is a high turnover rate at Barely Basic. This all boils down to being a privately owned for-profit facility that runs as a way to make money, not to help residents or workers.
From the outward perspective, it is a fancy high-end place to take your loved ones with certain needs. From a worker’s perspective, it has a shiny exterior with a rotten core. Workers desperately need better working conditions and higher pay in order to serve a vulnerable population.
People quit, get fired, or disappear so often that I have trouble identifying who the workers are. Every worker does their best with what they are given. Their capacity for empathy dwindles as they get more and more stressed out, understandably. Their capacity for caring, helping, and organizing disappears. Everyone knows about everyone and everything. Barely Basic bosses spend a lot of time and effort and money trying to uphold the high-end price tag that comes with the bodies they trap inside the facility. It doesn’t work. Workers always talk and know the reality. The problem is that workers don’t have the energy or knowledge to fix the place, or simply find employment elsewhere because change doesn’t seem worth it.
We have had two head nurses in the past month. The first nurse was named Griselda and there was an incident that was rumored to happen in which she found a resident on the ground, instructed care staff to pick that person up, put them in their room in their bed, clean up the blood on the carpet and only then call the paramedics. The head nurse didn’t want the paramedics to find the resident on the ground and question the ethics of the seemingly high-end facility. This was not okay because residents are people and putting the wants of a company before the needs of a human is completely not okay.
Bill was fired yesterday. He was the second head nurse hired recently. The official word was that he had other responsibilities elsewhere and could not perform his duties because of them. A worker told me a first-hand experience in which she overheard Bill “talking shit” about the workers and also that it wasn’t the first time that Bill had done this. Workers united by writing statements and giving them to Alice, the boss-boss. Alice is also new to the facility. My experience with Alice has been not positive, to say the least. She was hired from out of state and has not done a hell of a lot to improve the place from our standpoint. She works hard to get families to trap their loved ones here and then does her best to switch up a bunch of rules on us workers.
A few weeks ago, I came in for dinner service and heard a story from another worker. She told me that at lunch service a resident with dementia was being aggressive. Residents with dementia are nothing new to Barely Basic, in fact they specialize in that type of care. The story was that the resident was going around and showing signs of anger. The part that really stuck out to me was that the resident came up to another resident, who was with a family member, and the family member “smacked” the resident with dementia on the hand so hard that it was heard across the room. That family member is no longer allowed to come to meal services but I have seen her around the building since. I heard that it was never reported. It makes me feel sick the way residents are treated and seen due to their conditions.
Tonight, I was cleaning after dinner service when I noticed a large pool of water growing from the kitchen to the dining room. I asked Ruben, a co-worker who was there cleaning, if he noticed, and we inspected it. It turned out that the ice machine was broken and was pouring water from the wall into the kitchen which was starting to flood the dining room. I got my phone and took pictures and sent them to my boss and supervisor. I never received a response, but later I came back from cleaning the dining room to see Ruben on the phone with our boss. The boss told Ruben to unplug everything in the kitchen and to continue on. Soon after he unplugged the ice machine, it started to beep loudly. My reaction to this situation was to laugh and laugh hard. I thought it was funny because it seemed like a metaphor for my time there. Stuff is broken, the bosses don’t care and put it on the workers. Workers just continue on because we expect nothing less from the facility and many folks have the sentiment that it’s “good enough”.
From the perspective of our bosses, Barely Basic just needs more revenue and more bodies to house. There are new rules that have taken place under Alice, like we can only clock in 5 minutes early for a shift and that the care staff is on a new 12-hour schedule. I wonder about the intentions behind these rules… maybe they want us to be burnt out so it’s harder to talk to each other and even care about the state of the workplace. From the experience of a worker, this place needs serious change. I have witnessed workers absolutely burnt-out, crying, not able to live fulfilling lives in and out of the workplace.
After almost every shift there I feel upset. People I get attached to die. Workers are so tired and complacent in the way things are. And I make sixty-three cents above minimum wage. I have been trying to organize with almost no luck for months. I have found a third job, and that has become my primary occupation for the time being. But I refuse to put out the fire inside me; I just strive to make it a controlled burn.
Eventually, the pressures of life got to me and I had to quit. It has been almost a year since I wrote this, and a bird told me that it got bought out by another big assisted living corporation and things have only declined. The treatment of workers in this industry is appalling and has not been examined closely enough. Work affects so many things in our lives, it’s the first question many people ask when being introduced. When you are physically taking care of another person’s needs, and unable to meet your own something needs to be done. The taking advantage of workers as shown in every industry currently will continue if we do not come together and find a solution. I urge readers of this to consider their place in the world and examine what they don’t like about it, and what they can do to change it.