Gwynn is a Captioning Assistant at the Milwaukee CapTel call center who has contracted COVID-19. They have participated in multiple union actions and wanted the union to help spread their story to our coworkers.
CWU: Thank you for doing this interview with us. Can you tell us about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing? What has your experience with COVID-19 been like?
My symptoms started on March 24th with a cough, shortness of breath, and a low-grade fever. I called in sick twice, then talked to my doctor that Thursday and was told to quarantine for one week. If I was fever free for 3 days after that I could return to work. My fever did go away for a time, so I returned to work April 4th, but the cough and shortness of breath never relented. It was almost impossible to get through a work day, especially while wearing a mask to try to protect others. I called in at least once a week for the next two weeks because I wouldn’t be able to breathe. Then on April 20 I woke up and it was worse than ever and I also completely lost my sense of smell and taste. I called my primary care doctor again, and they told me to go to the ER to get tested. The doctor at the ER told me she was “almost positive” I had COVID-19, but because I didn’t need to be put on a ventilator right then, she was not going to test me. They gave me a package of free mucinex, tylenol and dramamine, and sent me home. When I talked to HR they agreed that I needed to stay home for at least another two weeks. My symptoms have continued to stay about the same. Cough, shortness of breath (even just trying to talk is difficult), fever that comes and goes, no taste or smell, and now my toes have turned red and swelled up.
CWU: What do you think of the safety precautions at CapTel? Do you think you caught the virus there?
Things have been fast-changing and confusing, but also inadequate, in my opinion. No PPE has been provided. At first they just had us disinfecting work stations more thoroughly. Then they had people trying to leave empty cubes between each other, though that is quickly overridden if there aren’t enough cubes for everyone who’s working. They eliminated all meetings and interactions with supervisors, and the shift trackers. They had us bringing alcohol spray with us to do call take-overs. Then they eliminated call takeovers. And right around that time is when I was quarantined again. I’m unaware of what changes have happened since then.
CWU: Do you think the company has been doing enough to stop the spread of the virus?
Not at all. The most infuriating thing for me was that every time I talked to HR they said they had extra questions for me, but only if I had an actual positive test result. Since I haven’t been given a test, they’ve done nothing. I believe they’re avoiding contact tracing or preventative measures for people that I’ve been working with. They can get away with it because I haven’t tested positive. A doctor confirming it isn’t enough. They told me to stay home a third week, which is good, but everyone I worked with deserves to know.
CWU: We normally ask people if they have a CapTel horror story but in your case it’s pretty clear what yours is. Do you have any other negative experiences you’d like to talk about?
I think one of the worst things is the time I switched from first shift to second shift. There was a transitional week where I was in my new zone but still working in the mornings. I had a very heavy, hardcover book that I was reading between calls. I didn’t like how much effort and noise was involved in lifting it and opening it and then closing and putting it back down between calls. So I would stand it up on the desk. I was not actively reading it on calls.
But a supervisor I had never met before saw it and decided to write me up for it. She had to ask my name to put on the form. It cheated me out of a full raise in February. Even though I had been reading that book for weeks and my previous supervisor never had a problem with it.
CWU: Why do you believe CapTel workers need a union?
The higher-ups in this company are like capitalists everywhere. They make far more money from our labor than we ever will, and mistreat us. They toss us tiny consolation prizes like being allowed to wear whatever we want or free lunches once in a while as though it does anything to make our lives tangibly better. Only by banding together can we force them to give us a living wage and better working conditions.
I would like to add, though, that we also need to be pushing for our part-time workers to have access to their PTO. I’ve been accruing it since I started working, and currently have over 100 hours saved up, and am not allowed to access it. That’s criminal. Why even keep track of it if I can’t use it? Even if I recover and can return to work I’ll have to work another 3 months before I can use PTO to make sure that on the days when my disabilities keep me from getting out of bed, I’ll still be able to make rent.