Keeping Your Job While Caring for Loved Ones

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Working union means living better. For Dawn Daniels and other Duluth city workers, that means five weeks of paid family leave. Daniels, a parks maintenance worker, can take care of her sick mother and stepfather without fear of losing her job or her home.

“My stepdad, he went in the ER a few weeks back. He couldn’t breathe so they had to put a tube in his throat. They ended up putting a tube in his lungs. He has had a mini-stroke. He has dementia. This is the sickest he’s ever been.

That same day my mother went in. She was hooked up to everything. She has heart disease, kidney disease. Her organs are fighting to work, and they’re fighting each other. She was in the emergency room. I almost lost her twice. 

Her time is limited. She wants out. She’s in so much pain.  It’s been going on for two years. It’s getting worse and worse and worse. I’ve come home and my mom’s on the floor. What am I going to do? She can’t be by herself. I had to put my stepdad in a nursing home and bought a house for my mom in Cloquet. She lived with me.  She’s not just my mom, she’s my best friend. 

As her caretaker, I had to give her baths, change her diapers, feed her, make her breakfast, make sure she took her pills, it’s everything.  I took her to all her doctor’s appointments. I didn’t have much help. It was me and my sister one day of the week.

How much time have I had to take off? I don’t even know. I feel like there’s something wrong with me from all the stress. My stomach is not the same. I can’t cry anymore.

I worry all the time about my job. I just bought that house. I had to get a new truck. I used my savings up taking care of my stepfather – it is very expensive to go into a nursing home. I would have lost my house.

Now my mom is in the nursing home, too. I applied for assistance for her. I really want her there because I don’t want to come home and see her dead. That’s what would happen.

Having five weeks of paid family leave gives us the opportunity to care for our family members, to be there. There’s nothing worse than watching someone dying, knowing they’re going to die and not being able to be there for them.

It means the employer cares, it gives you confidence. You don’t have to hide your feelings from your sick loved ones. My mom keeps asking me, Is everything all right at work? When I explained to her I have this extra five weeks, it took the strain off her and my stepdad. They really worry. They’re your parents.

Having the leave makes me feel good. It releases such a big amount of stress, knowing  I won’t lose my job, I will still be able to pay my bills.”

Editor’s note: The Union Difference series of interviews with members is lightly edited for clarity and length.