This piece was written by Local 5 member Kori Kim from Kaiser Permanente. Do you want to write for Local 5, contact us!
March 2020, Hawaii became a victim of COVID-19. Some people adapted to staying home, others transitioned to working from home, distance learning became the new normal, and parents became moderators. By early April, I was working from home full-time, and my son was on distance learning. One condition for working from home was to have childcare provided. The school expected parents to monitor their children throughout the day. Phrases such as “be flexible”, “difficult times”, “still meet standards” were used by both employers and schools.
But what about the needs of families? Were employers and schools thinking about the new situation families were working in? While employers required full work performance, and schools expected regular performance from students, what could families expect in return?
For Kaiser employees, the union was successful in getting Kaiser to provide COVID-19 benefits such as extra sick leave and Child Care Grant. These benefits were available through June 5, 2021. To be eligible, employees had to work between 20-32 hours at a Kaiser facility. But what about us, the remote workers who were told that we can’t watch our kids during work hours because we were on the clock? Why don’t we qualify?
I work in a call center; to ensure that patient privacy is still upheld means I cannot have my kid or anyone else in the same room. I set up my workstation in my home office, where I can have the privacy I need. Although I’m physically in the same house as my son, how can I provide the support he needs while meeting the requirements of the job? How is that different from someone sitting in the office or a clinic?
Kristen Eskaran, another call center representative, faced a similar situation. At one point, she had five children at home with her. She described her work from home environment as difficult and challenging. She said, “They would interrupt me during calls. They needed help with work and I couldn’t help.”
For my son, distance learning created a bigger challenge. COVID-19 affected more than just his learning; it affected his mental health. The stay-at-home orders and distance learning prevented him from seeing his friends. During the time of uncertainty, my son lost hope that he’d ever be able to return to school. Returning to school meant being able to see friends again. A person struggling with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety needs to be supported. Their small improvements should be celebrated while remembering that there is a chance for progress to regress. Through this time, I found that the school didn’t care about his mental health. They wanted a student, struggling with mental health issues, to still achieve higher standards. Why wasn’t flexibility and understanding extended to him?
As a parent, I had to step up and provide the additional support that school wasn’t providing him. Working in a call center, I didn’t have the flexibility to take that many breaks to check on my son, make sure he’s in class, make sure his laptop is connecting without issues, make sure he’s doing his work or paying attention to the teacher on Zoom. Someone had to be there to provide the care and assistance he needed. How can a parent fulfill both the needs of a child and employer when both have the same demands?
The flexibility and support that was being asked of families were not being reciprocated. When the COVID-19 vaccine became available, employers and schools started reviewing their plans for returning to campus or the office. Schools were finally bringing kids back full time. Parents would be returning to the office soon. Fast forward to August 2021, and COVID-19 is back with a vengeance. It does not discriminate, and trends have shown that it is affecting the younger population. With the uptick in cases and deaths, we face the possibility of another shutdown.
Although the government says it is the last option, a shutdown is still possible. If it does reach that point, can we expect to see the flexibility and support that schools and employers were asking from families? I’m hoping that we can avoid a shutdown. If unavoidable, however, schools and employers have an option to do things differently. This would be their second chance to do things right and fairly. My hope is that Kaiser recognizes where you perform your work shouldn’t make a difference. They should continue to provide COVID-19 benefits such as extra sick leave and Child Care Grant to all workers, including remote workers like me. A parent is a parent, and children need to be tended to, regardless of their age. Parents working from home deserve the flexibility to care for their children while still meeting the needs of the company.