Betty Cooks is 62 and was all set to celebrate her 26th anniversary at HCMC in May. She’s only a few years from retirement. But the recently announced layoffs of about 200 employees and the reassignments of numerous others have the Local 977 member wondering if she’ll be forced to retire early, and how she’ll ever afford to do so.
“I started at HCMC in 1991. I came there for a little Christmas job. They liked me so much, I did so much good work, they took me in and asked, Do you want to do a fulltime job? I wanted to be at home with my kids, but I got to liking HCMC, so I decided to stay. My kids would say, Mommy, why are you always leaving us? I’d say, Baby, you want nice things for yourself, mommy’s gotta do that, gotta provide.
“I’m a food service worker. I put food, cereal, muffins, on the line and put them on patients’ trays. I did different diets, I put out the food that was on their menus whether they were diabetic, gluten-free, depending on what they were in the hospital for. Making sure the food was right, it was very important.
“I come in in the morning, it’s supposed to be at 6, I get there at 5:30. I have my little music on, it gives me energy, my little bucket, my little rag and start wiping around. I just want it to be a clean spot. I’d go all along the tray line, make sure the coffee cups were stacked up, cereal bowls were stacked up. I put down mats for all my coworkers on the floor. They’d say, ‘Thanks, Miss Betty.’ I was doing it on my own time.
“I like the people I work with. Anybody who comes in, I’m always greeting them. Saying ‘Good morning,’ it made my day. I give most of them a hug, and if they don’t want hugs, I give them a handshake.
“I cared about my job. I was very, very good at it. I played an important part in helping people heal. They got the nourishment to leave the hospital stronger.
“To leave it was heartbreaking.
“They said they were making everyone rebid (for jobs), but they did it for certain people. I was really confused. They told me my old job became part-time. But they didn’t eliminate my job. They replaced me with someone working the same hours. She’s white. She’s 28 or 29.
“My choice was to go upstairs to the cafeteria. They said it would be easier because of my age. They said it was easier, but it was hard, it was so hard.
“It’s a lot more physical labor. I’m pulling garbage. The supervisors say push the garbage down in there, it will be lighter, and it’s heavier! I’m filling the big old tanks of coffee and then I’m filling pop machines with full big containers of ice. I have to lift them over my head. I’ve got to make sure the silverware is set up, refill the condiments. I’m stocking up on ketchup from bags, it’s so heavy. I’m filling in for people off the grill, serving people. I’m doing my position, I’m doing the second position that they eliminated. Half of the time I forget my break.
“The boss kept coming at me saying you’ve got to step it up. They’ve got me bouncing all over the place. Because I was black, because I was older, they put so much work on me, they’re trying to push me out.
“I can’t sleep. I got over-the-counter sleeping pills, and I’m still tossing and turning. I’m taking ibuprofen pills all the time. I feel like falling out. By the grace of God, I held myself together. I’m a firm believer in prayer. I started burning my candles for healing, that’s how bad it got.
“I told one supervisor that I’m going to have to see if there’s something else or I’m going to have to retire early. I really want to get 2 1/2 more years in, but they’re making it so difficult.
“Now I’m just afraid about my finances. I’ve got to pay my mortgage. My daughter is graduating with her master’s from college. I was kind of helping her, I wanted to pay two months of her car notes. I’ve been asking my mom, my sons, to help out. I usually do it all by myself. It’s so hard. Am I going to live where I live, pay my own bills? I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I want them to put everything back like it was supposed to be, make it workable for everybody.
“I’m just going to do the best I can do. I’m just praying I can make ends meet, make it work.”