"It was truly as if no one knew there was a pandemic, and we just had less kids for some reason."
|Kim Kelly||May 25|
With businesses in many states beginning to open back up (or continuing to operate after never closing in the first place), more workers will be placed in harm's way when management fails to take the virus seriously, or take proper precautions to keep them safe. Bosses who see the expanded unemployment insurance as a "free vacation" are doing their best to throw workers off of it, and give them no choice when it comes to when and how they return to work.
This daycare worker reached out and asked to keep her story anonymous; she reports a total lack of regard for workers' safety at her workplace, an oversight that that also has the potential to impact the kids they care for during the day.
This is her story.
I've worked at this daycare center as a teacher's assistant on and off for the past 7 years; this time, I'd been there for a year.
On March 19th, we were sent an email saying that in order to avoid forced layoffs, some of us would have to volunteer to take job-attached unemployment since so many families were pulling their kids out and they could not pay a full staff. Then, the owner came around personally and said that no one had to leave if they did not want to. Then we had a meeting where we were told if everyone came back to work on Monday and wanted their full hours and schedules, that they would "have talk about what would happen" in that situation.
I took that as they did not want to flat-out say that we would get laid off, but that was probably the direction they were headed, so I volunteered to leave so that my coworkers who absolutely could not leave their job wouldn't have to. I was called to return to work on April 28th, and I asked 3 questions: What room would I be in, how many hours they needed me for and if they would need me to go back on unemployment if the school did not fill up like they were hoping?
I received a sort of threatening email back, saying that I would be needed for as long as another stay-at-home order did not go into place, and if I did not return, I would lose my UI benefits. I told them at that time that I was fine with losing my benefits because I did not feel that it was safe to come back yet. A mass email was then sent out to everyone on unemployment giving us the definition of "Job Attached Unemployment," and saying that if we refused to come back our job, benefits would be terminated. The email was ended with "This is not a paid vacation."
At this point, I assumed I was fired until I got another email asking me to come back on May 4th. Knowing the state was trying to get people off unemployment by opening up, I figured I would not get my benefits back if I refused to return, so I agreed to come back.
Going back was unfortunately business as usual. The only things that changed were parents were no longer coming to the classroom to drop their kids off, and there were less kids than we had before the pandemic hit. No one was wearing masks or being told to wear masks. When I asked why this was, my coworker told me, "The masks lasted for about 3 days, then the director came in without theirs on; when we asked why they weren't wearing it, they told us it was voluntary, not required, so then everyone stopped wearing the masks." We were not doing temperature checks at all, and some of the rooms went over the 10 child per room rule, which were the main things set out in the guidelines for daycare facilities. It was truly as if no one knew there was a pandemic, and we just had less kids for some reason.
Personally, the pandemic has been extremely stressful for me. Both of my parents are older, and my mother has heart and minor breathing problems. If either of them contracted Covid-19, I'm not sure they would make it through. After I left work to go on unemployment, I didn't see them for an entire month, which was agony because we're a very close Italian family and I usually go over there 2-3 times a week. It's also been difficult because two of my siblings live with them, so I had to limit contact with them as well.
Three of my friends got the virus. One got better within two weeks, but the other two dealt with it for almost two months. They said it was the worst thing they've ever experienced and they would not wish it on their worst enemies. They told me it literally felt like someone was squeezing the air out of their lungs. I already deal with anxiety on a daily basis, but this has really sent it into overdrive.
I have had an elevated temperature and broken out in hives because of the stress. The questions constantly rushing through my head are, "What if my husband or I get it?" "What if my parents get it and we can't visit them in their last days?" "Will we even be able to have a funeral?" "Will my brothers and their families who live out of town get to come and grieve with us?" It's terrifying.
Let me be clear. This management team does not know how to treat people. Our owner is kind most of the time, but our director and assistant director should not be in charge of anyone because they frequently snap at people for just asking simple questions. Since the beginning of this pandemic, it has been a nightmare trying to get information from them and they are never on the same page. There was never a meeting to discuss the new safety precautions, so half of the staff did not even know they were not following half of the guidelines. When I went back and saw for myself that they were not following these precautions, I called the health department thinking they would change.
On May 13th, they sent an email saying there was a complaint from the health department against them, and now everyone had to wear masks at all times, temperature checks would be done upon arrival, and they would not combine classes—that was literally the day after I witnessed management not wearing their masks and joking about it. I was even told by the owner, "All the kids are gone so you all can take off your masks" as five of us stood in the kitchen together. My coworker was told by our owner they did not have to wear a mask during the kids' naptime .They also had one of my coworkers come in while they were vomiting and had a temperature for a few hours until someone else was able to come in.
There was still a classroom that had 12 kids, in it despite the teachers telling management multiple times that they should not have any more than 10 children. The only response they were given was, "Well, there's nothing we can do about it." They only cared about the appearance that they were following the rules, not actually following them, because they were an inconvenience. On May 15th, I turned in my resignation, citing all of these safety problems and the response I got was basically them telling me I was a liar, like I had not seen and heard all of these things first hand. Luckily I took pictures and will be reporting them again to the health department, OSHA, and the Covid-19 government email for our state.
It's important that everyone takes this pandemic seriously and if you see businesses not following the regulations set out, they should be reported. If you saw someone in a restaurant never wash their hands or use gloves, you would report it. The safety regulations are to protect people, and not wanting people to report businesses that are not following them is illogical and irresponsible.
I would avidly urge everyone to read up on their state's safety regulations and hold businesses accountable. Because if we do not, the risk is immeasurable.