Worker Stories

Healthy Work - Worker Stories
The Healthy Work Campaign would like to introduce you to Worker Stories, our collection of stories from you about unhealthy/toxic workplaces, healthy/engaging work, and how individuals came together to achieve “healthier work.” We also have cataloged many great reports about workers and their stories by journalists, researchers and others.

The story of work stress and health in the United States crosses every demographic, industry and job type. As you read through these stories, think about what work experience you could add to expand the conversation. We all have one.

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In Your Words

AGRICULTURE

“…I worked at a mushroom farm for 7 years. I worked with a supervisor who took advantage of his position. He began to send sexually explicit texts to my female co-workers. At first our complaints were ignored by the farm management. We decided to call the United Farm Workers and the farm manager finally took action and fired the abusive supervisor.”

Ana, California

COMMUNICATIONS

“…I was so burned out by the demands of my job working in social media covering breaking news…In reality, I barely saw anyone, struggled to get out of bed, cried frequently, vaped weed heavily, and found basic tasks like laundry exhausting. The darker the news turned, the more dead I felt inside, and I couldn’t escape the news because my job was to stay on top of it…. [mentions seizures] …After the bruises healed during a brief medical leave, after I’d ordered a tiny gold medical bracelet engraved with a diagnosis of epilepsy, most likely stress-induced, I went back to work.”

Malia

CONSTRUCTION & DAY LABOR

“Yes, there are dangerous things. We work with tools. They are the most difficult jobs, the hardest ones. The jobs we do are the ones that no other race wants to do…the most despised and hardest jobs—very susceptible to serious accidents. Now and then you hear about someone getting buried or that something fell on someone. And they were all day laborers…For example, with a gas pipe, or in the case of a cutting tool, an electric saw, a hand or foot can be severed…It depends on what we are doing…climbing up on something, a fall. Well, we do roofing, and someone can fall. Anything can happen.”

anonymous, California

“Of course I would love to have safer working conditions. Of course I would like to be able to shake this cough. But until I get settled with a good boss, one that treats us as human beings and not mules, I have no choice but to take any job—whether they offer protective gear or not. So no, I don’t dare demand protective gear as a condition of employment, not while I’m sleeping on the streets.”

Carlos, Louisiana/Mexico

CUSTOMER SERVICE

“I had debilitating migraines for three years because of the toxic work environment I was in. It took a two-week vacation (which included the stress of my own wedding) with absolutely NO migraines to finally realize the cause. I quit in June. I can count on one hand how many [migraines] I have had since, when I was getting on average one a week prior to leaving.”

Niki

EDUCATION

“I have heard criticism about teachers not wanting to come back to work or not doing their job. I’ve never seen my colleagues work as hard as they’re working now, at least 10, 12 hour days. And we still have to balance our personal lives and our families and everything else.”

Lynn, California

HEALTH CARE

“I have to take care of myself, because I know if I get sick or something, I’m gonna lose my job. It’s about trust. If I get COVID and get sick, I understand—I’m 100% realistic with this—that I’m going to lose the job, because even if I recover and I come back, that trust is not going to be there anymore.”

Mauricio, California

“I’ve seen nurses that have been in the profession for a long time, longer than my 25 years, saying that we’re OK — but we’re not OK. You almost see them at the point of mental break.”

Meka, North Carolina

“​​There’s an underlying assumption in burnout discussions: that it can always be remedied with some notion of self-care. What’s never spoken is that burnout is the remnant of a fire. I’ve never seen a piece of charred wood and thought that some time by itself and some water will restore it to its former state….That’s how I feel. Sooty, brittle. Burned to the point that I won’t be the same again…I guess that’s what happens when you see death over and over and over, standing helpless as you fail to preserve life after life despite your every effort…”

Dr. Nuti, Massachusetts

“No amount of money could convince me to stay on as a bedside ICU nurse right now. I can’t continue to live with the toll on my body and mind. Even weekly therapy has not been enough to dilute the horrors I carry with me from this past year and a half.”s that’s what happens when you see death over and over and over, standing helpless as you fail to preserve life after life despite your every effort…”

Sara, Washington

HOSPITALITY

Regarding a customer’s comment to them as a nonbinary person: “‘If you went to the South, you would be shot.’ The worst part is, you can’t really say anything to them because it comes out of your paycheck.”

Theo, Massachusetts

“On some days “there’s no bussers [and] no food runners, so we have to take the orders, run our own food [and] bus all of our tables. Servers have been called to work on the food line, to prep salads, to wash dishes. We come in and just have to fill the holes…If you’re having to do other things…then you make less [tips].”

Karen, Tennessee

LAW

“In addition, the high levels of stress caused such severe stomach aches that I ended up in the emergency room twice. I saw more than half a dozen doctors during this time, and none of them mentioned burnout, work, or even asked how I was doing generally in life.”

Paula

LOGISTICS

“​​What I want people to know is that we’re endangering our families to come here and produce food for them to get from the market. There’s always that fear of carrying the virus home with us. But it’s something that needs to be done.”

Armando, California

“I’ve always tried to make sure I was doing well enough and working fast enough before I took a bathroom break, so there’s certainly a lot of productivity pressure imposed to not go to the bathroom unless you’re in a place where you can sacrifice part of the speed of your rate…I didn’t love this job, but my experience wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the horror stories I’ve read in the media. But what most people don’t know is the isolation of the job in the first place. I had whole days where I didn’t talk to anyone (unless there was a problem). I wish there was more social interaction as a picker, but considering the pandemic, maybe it’s good that there isn’t.”

Ryan, Maryland

MANUFACTURING & FOOD PROCESSING

“I’ve had problems with my arm I used to cut because the line was too fast. I’ve had shoulder pain and I cut my finger badly because the production line comes too fast,” said one pork plant worker in Nebraska. “My wife, who works at the plant, almost cut her finger completely off with a saw because she doesn’t have enough time to cut the meat. I’ve seen a lot of people cut their arms, hands, and hurt their shoulders because they’re working too fast.”

anonymous, Nebraska

MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT

“I just quit my job. I’m a set dresser on a Union job. I have my card. And I just wanna say that we never got what we needed. I ran a warehouse with my friend (who became family) and we were never given the resources we needed to run such a heavy job. 9 day episodes, FULL dressing, 20+ locations. Two cages. 5 people. I decided that the stress wasn’t doing me any good, and put in my two weeks. The backlash came with that. I was looked at as a “negative” source and asked to step down, a week before I was leaving. Of course, I took it upon myself to leave. Within the week, 4 other people left the job…I was killing myself. Mentally… Physically… Emotionally…on this job, I got kicked in the back and screamed at “work harder”…we need to be on each other’s team.”

anonymous, IATSE stories

“At my studio you needed to have the “passion” for a project to work six days a week, or put in 16-hour days. This is very much prevalent in the game industry and is seen as pulling out all the stops for your love of the project. Of course, this places exceptional stress on your quality of life and family time. I have gone through really tough periods at home, when it feels like there’s enormous pressure to put work first. Management will always talk about having a healthy work-life balance but the implication is there that you could be doing more, fixing more bugs, taking on more work…feeling like your effort is constantly being judged means you end up doing it again and again.”

anonymous, U.K.

“…when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it’s not just them you’re hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?”

EA Spouse

“I worked for a company that was HIGHLY stressful and had a toxic environment. You were required to have a degree, and you were assistant to several execs and clients, yet you were paid less than a Starbucks barista. Most of the employees that were promoted from the assistant position had to go to other companies for promotion. We were berated daily, asked to do tasks far beyond our job description on top of all our workload including writing cards for their 400 person roster of clients. No affordable healthcare offered, no 401K, some employees traveled 2 hours daily by bus because they could not afford a car. After suffering a miscarriage, I decided to leave. I can’t blame the job for losing my child, but it definitely did not help.”

– anonymous, California

“Many industry professionals are aware that while CBS proudly touts its diversity programs, a close look beneath the surface reveals that the company is unconcerned about creating space for minorities…I never went to HR to report the trauma and bias I experienced because I didn’t trust the process. There was always the voice in my head of the powerful news executive telling me to “have thicker skin.” I honestly thought if I just stuck it out, it would get better. Things would change if I just worked harder. They never did. In late July I took medical leave for what I initially thought was anxiety and stress from postpartum depression. I’ve since learned that the source of my anxiety and stress was CBS’ toxic work environment.”

Whitney, California

RETAIL

“There would be times where we would have a huge batch due in half an hour and they would pull every employee off the floor [to get it done in time]…The pressure of ship-from-store and drive-ups was just crazy. It definitely took a toll — I want to say from the higher-ups on down in my store.”

anonymous, Maryland

“This rude customer behavior makes me feel bad and I don’t like getting yelled at, but I kind of expected it to happen…My manager says to be calm and professional, but to let management know if things escalate or if the customers need more help than I can provide, such as in situations like those. But in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to do any of that. People would just remember that there’s a person on the other side of their behavior — one who doesn’t deserve whatever rude treatment they want to dish out that day.”

Bennett, Ohio

“When I arrived to work the swing shift at Walmart – from late afternoon to late evening – I often found there were not enough staff to manage the number of customers lined up expecting service. I would find myself rushing between two sides of the deli counter unable to meet the demands on my own. I was afraid to ask some managers for help, because it would only result in being yelled at for something else. I was often threatened with being fired or replaced. If you had any kind of emergency or if you had to take time off…you have to put in for time off. But when you do, they won’t approve it… they are always letting you know, ‘Well, you know, there are people who will take your job.’”

Miranda, California

SERVICE & DOMESTIC LABOR

“I used toxic products like Fabuloso and bleach to clean, and it made my head and eyes hurt. My eyes were red all the time when I was cleaning, and I’d get really bad headaches. I also got fevers, and my throat felt like I swallowed dry chili peppers. I felt like this while cleaning bathrooms because they had poor ventilation.”

anonymous, California

“In the winter, I work in a coat and with double pants, otherwise I would freeze. In the summer, it’s hot. There’s a fan; no air conditioning. Before I sued my employer, I was on the schedule 7 a.m.–7 p.m., seven days a week. But sometimes I would work 24 hours until 7 a.m. the next day. My boss would call towards the end of my shift and tell me I had to stay. You didn’t take breaks. You just had coffee. We were on our feet all day. I would eat quickly, not even for 15 minutes…Days off weren’t possible…My boss hated me. It was really heavy. She always was telling me that I was robbing her…I was making $6.75 an hour with no overtime and no benefits. I am now making $15 an hour, and I am now a member of the LWC.”

Beatrice, New York

TECH

“All employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe. Sadly, the executive team has demonstrated through their lack of meaningful action that our safety is not a priority. We’ve waited for leadership to fix these problems, but have come to this conclusion: no one is going to do it for us. So we are here, standing together, protecting and supporting each other. We demand an end to the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.”

Claire, Tanuja, Meredith, Celie, Stephanie, Erica, and Amr (Google)

“You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face. Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Bo (Amazon)

TRANSPORTATION

“There’s more traffic. More cars and more people. The biggest challenge is people trying to catch the bus and darting out in front of cars and darting out in front of other buses…You have to be extremely vigilant and it does add a lot of stress to the job…”

Al, New York

“When the guy who is told he’s going to be fired gets on the bus, that stress meets my driver, and his stress. And then what happens? It’s not healthy, it’s not safe for anyone…I have a lot more bus operators getting a blood clot in their legs. Because they get to the end of the route and they can’t get out of the seat, they can’t go to the bathroom. It’s hurting their kidney function…. There’s no off button. It’s stress from one end to the other.”

Louis, New York

Worker Stories - HealthyWork.org

Reporting on Worker Health

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