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You Made Me Ashamed to Work for Your Company
On May 14, 2021, I left my day job at a major health insurance company. This is the email I sent to the CEO before logging off.
Names in the email below have been changed.
Friday, May 14, 2021
Dear Mr. Poupon—
Today is my last day at HealthFire, which presents me the opportunity to say a few things that I did not feel free or empowered to say while still counting on a paycheck.
Let me first say that I have enjoyed my time at HealthFire. The people I’ve worked alongside have, by and large, been great folks who care passionately about what they do. People work here because they want to help other people. It’s inspiring to see.
This is why I many months ago lost patience with your weekly “Checking In” emails. There I was last year, stuck in my cramped, one-bedroom New York City apartment, fearful every time I had to leave to buy groceries, working long hours to help with our pandemic response, only to receive weekly updates about how pleasant it was at your vacation home and how great it was to be with family and friends in these hard times.
Sure, you talked about other issues, those timeless themes of vision and hard work and perseverance, but to me your main message was a constant reminder that I was trapped at home with a terrifying disease rampaging through my community while I, unlike you, lacked the resources to spirit my family away to anyplace safer. Every day I had to sit home as my partner, an essential worker and a woman of color, went out in that community and risked her life just to serve others and bring home a pitifully small paycheck for her troubles, while her white colleagues stayed home to shelter in place and get unemployment.
I’m a white male of a certain age who receives what is by most people’s standards a generous salary. If these emails landed so badly with me, I can’t help but wonder how they landed with my fellow associates farther down the income scale. I wonder especially how they landed with the associates and contractors who must actually enter people’s homes to do their jobs.
As a senior software developer for HealthFire’s in-home care division, I worked on the systems that ensured our caregivers would always receive at least the minimum wage for the locale in which they worked, and never less than the HealthFire minimum wage of $10.80 per hour. (I’m using the 2020 figure here. I know that in 2021 it’s all of $10.95.) Let’s think about the caregiver making that wage. If they are fortunate enough to put in a full 2,000 hours during the year, they have made a grand total of $21,600 (the equivalent of what you made in 2019 in about two hours and thirty-five minutes). For a family of three or more, that number is below the 2020 Federal poverty line.
As I think about that person, I have a hard time imagining they want to hear about your son Skip’s birthday party, or how “interesting” it was that everyone who attended had to get a Covid test. That is a person who needs to get Covid tests on a regular basis because, during a pandemic, their job puts them directly in harm’s way. It’s not an “interesting” luxury. For them it’s life or death.
But that’s not what sits with me the most uncomfortably. For that, I’d like to quote from your “Checking In” email of Monday, August 3, 2020.
“I’m concerned about what’s happening in our country,” you wrote, in apparent reference to the police killings that sparked massive protests, “but I’m also concerned about what’s happening within our company. While we continue to encourage speaking up, not everyone feels they can. Many teammates have expressed now more than ever that they’re afraid to speak up about things important to them for fear of retaliation. I’ll share an example. Many teammates have spouses, parents or adult children who are in law enforcement. They feel they have to stay in the shadows and keep their support silent, or otherwise risk being viewed negatively. There are other examples besides this one, but the point is, we can’t have a strong and healthy culture if teammates feel this way. No one should feel left out and without voice.”
What’s troubling here is that, of the many “other examples” you could have used, you chose to highlight and privilege the pain of law-enforcement families, as if they are the ones who have spent the past four or five centuries on this continent unable to have their say and afraid to speak up, as if they are the ones who fill the majority of those low-wage positions that do the work that pads your bottom line, as if they are the ones who live with a constant fear that you and I cannot comprehend, the fear that, however perfectly they may abide by the law, they can still be beaten and strangled and shot like animals simply because of the color of their skin.
You live a life of unimaginable comfort and security because of the work of people of color, and when you could have at least expressed a word of support for them you chose instead to spit on their lived experience and their anguish. I’m sure you see yourself as a force for good in the world, but that day you articulated your utter contempt and disregard for the lives of the ones who do the real good work. I hope I’m not the first one to tell you this, but that day you made me ashamed to work for HealthFire.
In a better world, everyone risking their lives to do the truly important work of humanity would prosper and live without fear. Unfortunately, we live in a world where you have license to harvest a fortune off their backs and their blood.
Senior Software Developer ∅