Right to work state

Monday, I received my second and final dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.

To get this, I drove four hours north and stayed at a friend’s house for several days.

The day after receiving my vaccine, as I was dressing to drive an hour south to an oncology appointment (nothing in American healthcare is easy), my wife called me to tell me the healthcare system she’d been working for fired her after eight years of service.

No advanced notice.

No severance.

Our health insurance expires in four days.



(If my wife had done something egregious, something to deserve this style of “firing,” I would not be writing this post. I am relieved she doesn’t have to work for this “organization” anymore, but they did her so, so dirty.)

Her boss is a young man who knew well what our family was dealing with — I mean, he knew that I had metastatic breast cancer and that we were, like so many Americans, struggling to make it through this year.

Despite this, he fired my wife without notice, severance, leaving us in a sudden tailspin. Leaving my cancered ass to frantically find financial aid and sign up for ACA so I don’t quite literally die. (Oh, I also am doing this while teaching classes, updating grades, meeting with students, finishing my under-contract book, and, you know, trying to stay above ground — quite literally.)

Arizona is a “right to work” state. The man who fired my wife was totally operating within the laws of the state of Arizona. An employer can fire any employee in any way they like, whenever they like.

I don’t know enough about labor law to speak very articulately about it, but I do feel that if “right to work” means you throw people away without so much as fair warning, then it is an unjust law or, at the very least, it’s immoral.

Because I was sick and badly sore-armed from my second vaccination, and would be receiving infusions at the cancer center that made me sometimes feel “ick” I was planning to stay up north until I was well enough to drive.

Instead, I barfed my way down the I-17 back to Tucson, to be with my wife who, like me, was scared and hurting. Stunned by the suddenness with which our entire lives, had once again, been upended.

As a cancer patient, an educator, and an American, I’ve been thinking a lot this year about “common good.”

I wrote about compassion in education recently (you can read it HERE).

I have thought a lot this year about “community” and the ways in which we are responsible to our various communities.

In the days before our world was turned upside down, yet again, by the callous decision a young, white male made (always the way) about our future, I sat distanced from a small, revolving, group of friends and talked about how we can be better, how we can improve our communities, uplift the downtrodden, care for our sick, make paths for the financially suffering to be brought out of poverty, help our neighbors, family, friends, and OURSELVES live better lives.

Basically, we talked about concepts that are major tenets in all world religions. We talked about basic human decency — which is severely lacking in America right now.

You don’t have to be religious to know it is MORALLY WRONG to fire an employee who gave nearly a decade of their life without notice, much less a small severance.

But this happens every day in America. Families like mine are carelessly thrown away because they are gay or brown or Black or poor . . .

You do, you, buddy. (I do so hope the “you” I specifically mean, right now, is reading this.)

Northern Arizona Healthcare threw my family away. It was well within their legal rights to do this, but is it moral? Is it good? Is it just? Who does “right to work” really benefit? (We all know the answer.)

I’ve been in the workforce since I was fourteen. Started out bagging groceries.

I am lucky to now have a job where I feel loved and supported. I am lucky to have work that brings meaning and joy to my life. Few are so lucky.

During my years in the workforce (present employer exempted) I’ve seen some ugly shit from management. Like real icky, dark stuff. Corporate America is gross as fuck. Treats people terribly. Those of us with the time and ability need to start holding corporate America accountable for the immoral way in which they treat American workers. And as I’ve said countless times in these posts, people who are more “corporate” than “compassionate” need to get the fuck out of organizations/systems that are supposed to be about SERVING HUMAN BEINGS — like healthcare, education . . .

But back to “right to work”: are we okay living in a world where a “non-profit” (quotes intended) tosses an employee out of work and out of health insurance when one member of their family has a terminal illness during a pandemic?

I pay bills to this healthcare system — I sincerely doubt they’re “hurting,” organizationally, for money. They’re not.

I don’t want my students or my nieces or any young person I know and love to ever be treated by the workforce the way my family was treated yesterday.

And Sarah and I are a family. We are not a heterosexual family. We do not have children. But we are a family. We have loved ones. We have people who love and care about us who are now hurting immensely and FRIGHTENED for us.

“Right to work”: so this dude wanted to get rid of my wife.

He has a right to do that.
But if we’re talking about morality, about justice?
He (and the management) should have had the basic decency to give her a week or two notice given that he knew FULL WELL that by throwing her out of employment he was literally going to be putting my actual, mortal, life in jeopardy.

He, and the organization, could have made a different choice.
Maybe they would have if Sarah and I were a heterosexual couple.
Maybe if we had children. Maybe if we owned property. Maybe then our family would have been treated, in this situation, with a shred of decency.

I mean, I KNOW (despite what anyone wants to argue to the contrary) that if my wife had been a white male in a corporate/cube job (don’t even get me started on what America does to low-level corporate workers: hello, retail) this would have played out differently.

Imagine it: a white man in his forties, in marketing, been with “the company” for eight years, wife has stage iv cancer and his performance (understandably) might be a bit compromised because, you know, he’s worried about his wife and there’s a pandemic going on and everything feels really scary and fucked up. (Really, are any of us on our “A game” this year?)

They would NOT have called him into an abrupt morning meeting and tossed him and his family away.
They would have given him a week, at least.
They SURELY would have given him a severance — lest the white man SUE (they love to sue).

“It’s not personal; it’s just business” — fuck that.
When people’s actual lives are on the line, it IS personal.
And moreover, these things happen MOSTLY to BIPOC, women, LGBT folks.
Have you checked stats recently on how quickly the American workforce is hemorrhaging female employees?
Fuuuuuck, fellow women folk, it’s scary.

I am tired of it.
I am tired of being quiet about this shit.
I am tired of politely and “kindly” accepting this type of treatment.

So yesterday, sick as fuck from my second dose of the vax, I dragged my ass (sobbing) into my oncologist’s office.

Fortunately my oncologist has a heart, a soul, a moral compass — he and his staff were quick to guide me toward resources and reassure my crying ass that it was going to be OKAY. They gave me a box of tissue, a bottle of water, and let me cry it out before giving me my shot in the ass and an application for financial aid.

Then I cried and barfed my way back down the mountain (sorry towns of Queen Creek and Marana for barfing on your roads) because I just wanted to be with my wife. I wanted to cry in my own bed.

This happens in America every day.
This is just the first time I’ve been on the receiving end.
Feels bad.
Makes you feel powerless and small and like your life doesn’t matter at all
to the people who hold all the power.

I am tired of taking this type of treatment quietly.
I won’t.
There are things that are objectively “right”
and things that are objectively “wrong.”

And while I’m largely opposed to “call out culture” — tends to do the opposite of what it intends — I do think, if we have a platform,
American workers need to start calling “bullshit” when these things “happen.” Because they “happen” as a result of people being utterly disconnected
from their humanity, from their sense of responsibility to their fellow human beings, from their communities.

I won’t live to see a time when all of corporate America (that includes corporations masquerading as non-profits) does right by their employees; a time when all organizations (corporate or not) are guided by compassion as much as they are guided by dollars. But maybe if I calls it like I sees it, I can be part of moving things in that direction.

The man who fired my wife is just starting out in his career.
He’ll probably go far.
He’s white, male, tech-savvy.
Someday — maybe soon, maybe not until long into the future — he will be haunted by the way in which he handled terminating my wife.
I mean, presuming he has a conscience.
I’m not so sure that someone who could do what he did has much of one.
Can you grow a conscience after the age of thirty?

Anyway. What he and the “non-profit” did to our family (which they don’t see as a family because we don’t fit the right “mold”) was legal, but was it right? I’ll let you formulate an answer.

In the meantime, you can find me over on the ACA website, trying to navigate that shit show.

And why am I taking time out of my stressful, busy day to write this post? Because I want you, reader, to know.
Because, you, reader, have probably been a victim of similar treatment at some point in your life and it’s not “okay.”
Your life — whether you’re a cashier at the Circle K or a world-renowned neurosurgeon or have no employment at all — matters.
Your life matters more than money, despite what capitalist America would like you to believe.

There is NO dollar amount that can be placed upon YOUR life.
None. Even though some sick fucks in this world have conditioned you to believe this is so.

Cancer lady concluding thought: the money the company did or didn’t save by firing my wife and booting us off of healthcare? They can’t take it with them. They will get old and older and they will die, just like everyone else. Their legacy will be one where they made LOTS of money and hurt LOTS of people. No one will remember these people because they contributed nothing — they thought only and ever of their own interests.

I will speak out against this, and every other blatant fucking injustice in this country, until the day I die.

Note: I am talking purely of the corporate management at NAH. This has no reflection whatsoever on the kick-ass staff from the nurses to the surgeons to the folks in the small cubes who do their level best for patients under a really shitty corporate structure. Yesterday, one of my lowest days in recent memory, the nurses and staff and my doctor at NAH were so kind, so comforting, so good to me. And I thank them for being compassionate. I needed all the humanity I could get yesterday, and they delivered. I hope that should this come across the eyes of NAH management they think about what I’m saying here, and treat their employees better — all of them — because there are some damn good ones, and after a while, everyone is going to get wise to the bullshit at the top and bail. The arc of history is long, but I do believe it tends to bend toward justice.

Peace out. I’m off to figure out what the fuck to do about the fact that I have cancer and, in a few days, no health insurance.

Be good to each other. If you are a boss, be good to your employees. I mean on just a fucking human decency level.

If anyone is your subordinate, remember they’re just as human as you even if they don’t have your (often undeserved) position of power.

Moreover, remember your power alone doesn’t make you “right” or “more deserving” or “better than.” (Again, you can’t take all that sweet cash with you when you go — it will turn to dust along with your shitty, sad, cowardly reputation.)

Be gentle with each other, folks.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store