Written on April 10, 2022
About a month ago, I confided in my nephew that I was feeling extremely stressed out these days. He, being a sweet and sensitive person, asked me why this was so.
My response was this:
“Where do I start? Well, one employee/friend’s cat was very ill, so I paid for part of the vet bills. (Animals in need are my weakness!) Another employee/friend’s dad is having health problems. I feel sorry for her, of course, but I’m also concerned that she might have to go back to Ottawa if his condition becomes worse, which would leave me with only two people to help me out. Not only that, but other friends are going through the trauma off having a death in the family, and I’m doing my best to give everyone emotional support as best I can. Also, another one of my friends thought that she was having a heart attack last week, and last night I heard that another friend had passed away due to complications from his diabetes.
Besides all of this, I’m extremely busy! I’m painting constantly (which I love!) and now I belong to two separate committees, both of which are focussed upon improving the quality of life for people with communication disabilities.”
This conversation has been quite a while ago now. I didn’t tell my nephew about the extent of my stress levels. I haven’t told him that since that day there have been times when I feel like going to my bedroom to vent, by screaming and crying out loud. Instead, I simply drink a few more shots of Crown Royal and smash a bag of potato chips into tiny pieces. (I can only eat chips when they’re in small pieces anyway, so it works out nicely.)
Covid, with all of its variants, has been, and continues to be, the bane of my existence. Two years ago (it certainly feels longer!) four of my employees left my service, due to the fear of the pandemic and for other personal reasons.
The three people who are left (thank god for them!) and I, have muddled through these past two years. Everyone has had all of the required vaccinations, although scheduling an appointment was sometimes like jumping through hoops! Gloves, face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes have all been used as a means to protecting ourselves against Covid and its variants. Buying the Rapid Test Kits, though, especially during the time period when there were other 10,000 cases of Covid in Ontario, was like going on a scavenger hunt.
I haven’t been selling my artwork at the St. Lawrence Market since Christmas. I want to go back, but first the numbers of cases were too high, then the government took away the mandate for face masks and vaccine passports, which has made my employees and I feel very vulnerable. And now, apparently, there’s a new variant in the UK; China; the Netherlands; and, some parts of Europe. They say that it’s not as bad as other types, but hospitalizations are way up
Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? These lyrics from The Clash run through my mind on a daily basis. I want to go back to the market so badly! I miss my customers and the friends I’ve made over the years – and, of course, the money I made weekly! It’s been hard to make ends meet lately. I don’t know…. I just don’t know…. I keep hearing different stories, different opinions. It’s doing my head in! And, of course, it’s not just me that I have to think about. If my employees don’t feel comfortable or safe coming with me to the market, which is often crowded, I can’t make them.
And that brings me to the two main points of this blog post, both of which have made me absolutely infuriated! (It’s chips smashing time!)
The Centre of Independent.Living in Toronto (CILT) is like a double-edge sword to me. Yes, yes, I bow down to them and kiss their feet for giving me Direct Funding fifteen years ago! Direct Funding has allowed me to crawl out from beneath of the oppressive and sometimes abusive rock of the on-site attendant care system. Through Direct Funding, I am able to train, pay, hire and fire the people I choose to help me live my life. Direct Funding has given me the sense of freedom and independence I never had before. I sincerely and emphatically thank CILT for allowing me to have Direct Funding and some semblance of control over my life!
And yet… I’ve received emails occasionally over the years from CILT telling me that I was either over budget or under budget, even though the hours for my employees rarely, if ever, change. I’m very anal about keeping track of my employees’ schedules and hours! I’ve learned to do and say nothing to CILT about this matter, because things always seem to get straightened out anyway. In the beginning, I used to apologize and tell them that I’d do better, fearing that if I rocked the boat I’d maybe lose my funding.
About nine months ago I received an email from CILT requesting that I clarify the identity of one my employees. You see, as a sign of respect for this one person, I used to simply put their preferred name instead of their dead name in my scheduling sheets. I’ve been doing this ever since they started working for me, two years ago. However, suddenly CILT directed me to use the person’s “real” name in my schedule sheets. So, I’ve compromised. Now, I put my employee’s preferred name, and then AKA and their dead name. That seemed to satisfy CILT.
It is interesting, though, because this same employee also works for another woman who has a disability. The woman receives Direct Funding from CILT, just as I do, and has to send in her quarterly schedule report, just as I do… and yet, the matter of clarifying this same employee’s “real” name has never been put into question.
It was around this time when I received another email from CILT telling me that they had noticed that two of my employees were working 38 to 40 hours a week, and that this had to stop because they were going into overtime. I wrote back and explained that I was in a difficult position at the time. Four people had left my employment, the pandemic was at its zenith, and everyone was scrambling to get vaccinated. I’d do my best to get things in order, I told them, but, frankly, I didn’t feel comfortable hiring anymore new people at the moment. No one seemed particularly eager to knock on my door and ask for a job either.
CILT never emailed me back, nor did they give me any helpful suggestions on how to rectify this difficult situation. So, I just assumed that they would let things go along as they were for a while.
And then, two weeks ago, when I was dealing with a dear friend dying, when my cousin-in-law thought she was having a heart attack, when I had to support friends through some difficult times, when I was anxious (and still am!) about the possibility of one (or two, or all three) of my employees suddenly having to leave or becoming ill (what would I do then????) - that was when CILT decided to email me again.
It was on the same subject as last time: two out of your three employees should not be allowed to do so many hours. Paying people for overtime was out of the question!
Interestingly enough, the tone of CILT’s email made it sound like they had never broached this subject with me before, nor had they received my response.
This second email upset me greatly!! CILT claimed that working for such long hours could potentially cause “accidents” or “mental stress” for both patties. I haven’t responded yet. I’ve rolled my eyes and gritted my teeth, but not a word has been written. Their unjustified implications that I was 1) disrespecting my employees and 2) being careless with their welfare was both frustrating and infuriating!
The people at CILT have no idea what the relationship between my employees and myself is like. There’s mutual respect between us all. In fact, we are more than just employer and employees, we are friends. If someone has a problem, it’s discussed and figured out. During the beginning of the pandemic, for example, one person had a mild case of Covid and was unable to work for a week, so the other two people rearranged their lives to help out. And, I did my part as well by going to bed much earlier than I usually do, suggesting to the people who do the overnight shifts to just go home if they wanted, rather than staying with me all night.
For every shift that my employees work, they get an official one-hour break. If I want to sleep in, or want some time to myself to do some painting, then they can also have some unofficial time off to do what they want.
I am not a monster like Jeff Bezos who works his employees to the brink of exhaustion and won’t allow them to take bathroom breaks. I actually care about the people who work for me!
When I asked my employees about whether they felt like they were being overwhelmed by the work they were doing for me, all three said no. Certainly, an extra person for emergencies would be great, of course, and if someone else (or perhaps the same person) could take over the Thursday night shift, that would be good too. Over all, though, my employees told me that they were content with their schedules and didn’t feel overworked.
One employee said that they used to work in a store forty hours a week, getting paid only minimum wage, lifting heavy boxes and dealing with rude customers. The person who also works for the other woman who receives Direct Funding explained that with working for both of us, at different times during the week, it probably ended up being around forty hours anyway.
This brought up a segue. If I did cut back hours, my employees would have to find part time jobs to make ends meet – Toronto is a very expensive place in which to live! Ironically, if my employees were to juggle multiple jobs, wouldn’t that be exhausting for them and potentially cause accidents in my workplace, both for them and myself?
I feel so frustrated! I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. CILT wants me to cut my employees’ hours back, but my employees say they like the money I give them because it allows them to pay rent, and to buy food and other necessities of life. And, I, of course, need them to assist me live my life the way I want. They have dreams and so do I, and for the past two hellish years of Covid, there has been a certain camaraderie, if you will, amongst the four of us to not only survive but to thrive as well!
I wish that the people at CILT could see things not only from my point of view, but my employees’, as well. The provincial government, which gives money to CILT in order to operate Direct Funding, should also open their eyes and realize that serious changes need to be implemented.
The Star stated that during last week, Ontario had seen from 100,000 to 120,000 daily cases of the new Covid variant. In my humble opinion, the pandemic will continue onwards, morphing into different types of variants until… who knows when? There may be another lockdown, and I’m sure this will hurt the economy even worse. Because of this eventuality, people who receive low wages and who are already struggling to make ends meet will find themselves in even tougher circumstances.
My message to the government is this: Please raise the rates for all of the low-income people and make housing more affordable as well. Please reinstate the mandates for masks, social distancing and vaccine passports. The latter will keep cases down and make people feel safe. The former will allow people some financial breathing room, which would make it easier not to work multiple jobs and work overtime. For people like me, who receive Direct Funding, it would allow me to cut the wood 🪵 back my employees’ hours and hire a couple more people to help me live my life. Until all of these suggestions are implemented, please, please, my dear government, allot more money to CILT and the Direct Funding program so that people like myself, who are in complicated and difficult situations at this point in time, so that we might be allowed to give our employees/caregivers sometimes when needed.
I was going to write more, a lot more, focusing upon the other point that has me so upset … so upset to the point of tears, but I suppose that there will have to be a Drinking Crown and Smashing Chips Part II in the not-too-distant future.
Yesterday afternoon, one of my employees informed me that they had woken up with a sore throat and tested positive for Covid. I gave them my wholehearted sympathy, wished them a speedy recovery and told them that I would see them again after their ten-day isolation period was up.
Afterwards, I immediately took a test, and so did the employee who was with me at the time. Thankfully, we both tested negative. Yay! Well, at least that was something,
It’s 6am now, and I’ve barely slept for wondering what worrying all night about how to fill the three shifts left open. I think I have a plan… but what if falls through? I’ll then have to email and text some friends (people who have worked for me previously) and ask for help. People are so busy these days.
I hate the uncertainty of it all.